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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
A paddle boat made from da Vinci's drawings. The models in the show are but a handful of da Vinci's ideas.

OREM — It appears Leonardo da Vinci never slept.

Or, at the very least, he kept very, very busy during his waking hours.

In his 67 years, he created art masterpieces that still have scholars in the art world studying his work and designed war machines, buildings and transportation devices that carried forward into today's society.

And he was a fun guy despite having to struggle daily to make a living.

"Besides being an artist, an architect and an inventor, he was a party planner!" said Kenneth M. Katz, an American managing partner for the traveling exhibit, "The da Vinci Experience." "This mirror chamber was a party trick. He wanted a machine so he could see all sides of an invention."

A small metal robot designed with hidden pulleys and ropes that opens and closes his jaw, sits up and waves his arms is another device created purely for entertainment.

"He didn't sleep much, as you can imagine," Katz said as he led a tour of the 60 working models built from the drawings in da Vinci's notebooks.

The models include war machines such as the Scorpion boat outfitted with a huge metal scythe designed to cut up an enemy's sails and a forerunner of the tank complete with rotating guns.

"He thought of putting horses inside, but the risk of the horses panicking was too great," Katz said.

He designed an intimidating copy of a Babylonian war wagon with large, rotating blades and spiked metal wheels.

Katz and Luigi Rizzo, an Italian managing partner in charge of the exhibit, say the models in the show are but a handful of da Vinci's ideas.

"These come from a potential 14,000 technical drawings," said Rizzo, who explains that a group known as the Artisans of Florence — inspired by Gabriele Niccolai and his father — have dedicated themselves to bringing da Vinci's ideas off the pages to life.

"Some of his inventions he took to the prototype and testing stage. Flight was his passion," Rizzo said. "We have a number he tested."

Rizzo said not all of da Vinci's ideas worked right away, so many of the sketches are evolving plans.

"He was such a curious man. He would observe. He would draw it and then redraw it," Katz said.

For instance, da Vinci realized that the span for a pair of wings needed to lift a man into the air would have to be 12 meters or more. So he turned to developing a rotor-type device — a forerunner to the modern helicopter.

Did da Vinci test his wings himself?

"There are rumors of some strange flying objects being seen in the skies of Florence in the evenings," Katz said. "But we don't know for sure."

The British army uses an exact copy of da Vinci's 40-foot, squarish fabric parachute, and his ideas are apparent in pulley, gear and chain systems used the world over.

"They're very simple, his ideas, like the chain, rejected for a time because it was so simple," Rizzo said.

The inventions range from double-hulled boat bodies to mobile stairs to spotlights to a clock that tells time according to how much a candle has burned.

He sketched designs for circular gears, ball-bearing mechanisms, cars, drills, cranes, saws and hoists, even an aqueduct system. His bicycle is a perfectly functioning model complete with wheels, pedals and gear chains.

"He was very clever," Katz said, "and he protected his designs by leaving out one or two essential pieces of information in each one so no one could copy it."

The British tried in vain for years to build his tank, which was both an offensive and defensive war machine. Until they discovered da Vinci's "trick" of moving the engines from the back to the front, they had little success.

Visitors to the exhibit can play with some of the models, pull on the pulley ropes, turn the worm screw and even build a little helicopter or parachute. But the curators stress that the models and paintings are ultimately put on display for adult consumption.

Teachers are encouraged to bring their students, and a teachers' guide is available.

In addition, there are 11 of da Vinci's most famous paintings on display, including copies of "The Last Supper," "The Mona Lisa" and da Vinci's signature sketch, "The Vitruvian Man," which, in da Vinci's opinion, exemplifies the perfect machine of man.

"This exhibition is for the adults, not just for the kids, to appreciate what da Vinci thought of 500 years ago," Katz said. "It's an everybody show."


If you go ...

What: The da Vinci Experience

Where: UVSC Woodbury Gallery, second floor of the University Mall, Orem

When: Through October

Cost: $14 for adults; $6 children and students, military

Phone: 863-6200

Web: www.uvsc.edu/museum or www.davinciexperience.info


E-mail: [email protected]