Genius of da Vinci newly revealed at new OMSI exhibit

You’ll see what’s behind Mona Lisa’s smile – literally! You’ll touch and operate models built from his plans. Talk a look, and see why this world-class exhibit in S.E. Portland is drawing so much attention …

Although da Vinci was an avowed pacifist, Lily, Clifford and Dylan Jones look over one of his inventions for the military of his day, a model of his “multi-directional gun cannon”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
What’s new at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is a fascinating new exhibit highlighting the genius of a man who lived five centuries ago (April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519). The man was named Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, meaning “Leonardo, son of Messer Piero from Vinci Italy”.

Today, we call him Leonardo da Vinci.

OMSI president Nancy Stueber welcomes first-nighters to their new exhibit, “Da Vinci: The Genius”.

At the opening of “Da Vinci: The Genius”, OMSI’s President Nancy Stueber told us, “Leonardo da Vinci was an extraordinary person who inspired many of us. This exhibit documents da Vinci’s extraordinary contributions to science and society. Also, we hope it will inspire today’s innovators and inventors and our future geniuses to create solutions for some of problems we face today.”

The two-floor exhibit at Portland’s popular science museum shows off da Vinci’s genius – utilizing an array of full-scale re-creations of his machine inventions. Stueber noted, “These include a hang glider, helicopter, military tank, and many mechanical devices crafted from his personal notebooks.”

On the lower level, we watched as visitors pushed, pulled, cranked, and interacted with a dozen or so working models that illustrated math, engineering, and physics principles.

Lillian Brehmer operates one of the hands-on exhibits, a working model of a load bearing based on a da Vinci drawing.

Dana Bacharach looks at a faithful reproduction of Mona Lisa’s back side while OMSI Educator Kate O’Neil explains the subtleties revealed there to Stephanie Swanson.

Behind the Mona Lisa
On the upper level, guests learned the “Secrets of Mona Lisa” – an exhibit displaying giant, highly-detailed enlargements of da Vinci’s most famous work, some as large as 13 ft x 10 ft. This exhibit is said to be the most accurate reproduction of the masterpiece, revealing 25 previously unknown facts about this famous portrait.

Kate O’Neil, a museum educator at the featured exhibit hall, pointed out details of a unique display called of “Mona Lisa, Front and Back”. It is a faithful reproduction of the famous painting, frame removed, allowing guests to closely inspect both the front and back of the artwork.

Studying the giant enlargements of da Vinci’s paintings are Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack, Corie Wiren and Diane McKeel.

“It’s interesting to me that da Vinci was also a musician, and created inventions for the theater,” O’Neal added. “His ideas for human flight came about originally as a theatrical prop.”

The exhibit, we learned, originated in Italy, was a decade in the making, and is the most complete and comprehensive traveling exhibition on da Vinci ever. It has been seen in Rome, Moscow, Melbourne, San Paulo, San Francisco, and other major cities around the world.

Eliyas Begleries and Sally Baker study da Vinci’s “battle tank” and say it is fascinating.

Katie, Ron and Sandy, Klump say their fascinated by this three-dimensional model of da Vinci’s plans for a bicycle.

Edward McLean and Harpel Keller examine a model of da Vinci’s transportable suspension bridge.

This premium exhibition at the Oregon science museum on the east bank of the Willamette River runs through May 3; in addition to the regular non-member entrance fee, there is an additional charge of $5 for adults ($16 total), $3 for children ($12 total). OMSI members will be admitted free, however, by presenting a current membership card.

OMSI is located at 1945 SE Water Avenue, just north of the Ross Island Bridge. For more information, visit their website — — or call (503) 797-4000.

Although they probably wouldn’t get off the ground, OMSI visitors are enthralled with life-size models of da Vinci’s flying and gliding machines.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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