To speak nothing of his art, Leonardo da Vinci’s amazing, 500-year-old inventions and codices in math and science are the foundation for much modern-day technology and engineering.
Bikes, helicopters and airplanes represent a few of his ideas that have become a part of everyday life and Leonardo was the man who inspired those who brought them to fruition.
Luckily, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center is bringing an exhibit with more than 60 replicas of Leonardo da Vinci’s historic machines. The exhibit “Da Vinci: Machines and Robotics” will debut Feb. 10 and run through May 15. With the help of big sponsors such as Hargrove Engineers and Constructors and AM/NS-Calvert, to name a few, the staff at the Exploreum was able to bring this intriguing exhibit to Mobile.
Roy Duncan, Mobile operations leader for Hargrove, was pleased to have a hand in bringing Leonardo to the Gulf Coast.
“Leonardo da Vinci is obviously well-renowned for his groundbreaking influence in the realm of math and science, particularly physics and engineering. This made for a perfect partnership for us here at Hargrove,” Duncan said. “It is exciting to be involved in something so culturally significant and to bring a new perspective on science and engineering to Exploreum patrons and students here on the Gulf Coast.”
This will be the first time a Leonardo exhibition has been displayed in Mobile.
Don Comeaux, Exploreum assistant director of operations and education, is extremely excited about the exhibit.
“I think it’s going to be a really great experience,” Comeaux said. “There are roughly over 60 exhibit pieces; about 21 to 25 are operational, that you can actually touch and work with.”
While none of the pieces were built by Leonardo himself, they are accurate depictions of what he drew and detailed in his codices. According to the Exploreum’s news release, “The exhibition brings to life the most important and impressive designs of the original Renaissance Man, including the bicycle, spring-powered car, hang glider, helicopter and, for the first time, his incredible robotic drummer.”
The release also states, “Visitors will see working models and machines carefully constructed from da Vinci’s own drawings, notes and designs, and visitors will be able to touch and control them.”
Another interesting and interactive part of the exhibit will be a da Vinci workshop where visitors can recreate one of Leonardo’s incredible machines to keep for themselves, including his catapult and air screw. Exploreum Executive Director Jan McKay sees a lot of value in the offering.
“When you’re done seeing all these fabulous things and learning by touching them, and looking at his designs, drawings and paintings and being inspired, then you can go into da Vinci’s workshop and try what you might want to try,” she said.
While the workshop is part of the exhibit, it does carry a price. “For a low fee they actually get to build something and get to take it home with them and it’s fully functional,” Comeaux said.
The exhibit is something Comeaux and others at the Exploreum hoped to bring to Mobile for a long time.
“We’re really excited,” Comeaux said. “We started working on this about a year ago when we met the artisans at an [American Alliance of Museums] conference,” he explained. “What we loved about it is that it truly represents da Vinci’s works. It’s not a lot of video and pictures; these guys actually took the time to replicate his drawings and his machines.”
In alignment with Leonardo’s Italian lineage, the exhibit was created by the Artisans of Florence, a family business including members of the Niccolai and Rizzo families. The Rizzos take care of the business side of things, while the Niccolai family are the engineers who assembled the inventions exactly the way Leonardo would have. Comeaux also had some information to share about the family.
“They’re the ones who have been building these pieces for probably the past 60 years,” he said. “They’re the ones that have been doing it from da Vinci’s codices and the whole bit.”
The pieces coming to Mobile are actually part of a traveling da Vinci exhibit.
“We have pieces that are actually being shipped in from Italy and some pieces that are being shipped in from other areas because they were already on tour, like in Australia,” Comeaux said.
“From my perspective, this is one of many [exhibits] for school children of course, but also for learners of all ages,” McKay offered.
Comeaux agreed. “We want it to be fun for everybody … and that’s the great thing about da Vinci because it appeals to everyone. Because the kids might be amazed by the gears, but the adults are amazed by the scientific brilliance and the art pieces and everything else that goes with it.”