UTPA unveils Leonardo da Vinci exhibit

Starting Sept. 29 organizers at the UTPA Visitors Center welcomed the public to the Leonardo da Vinci “Machines in Motion” exhibit organized by Evergreen Exhibitions, one of the world’s largest traveling museums. The showcase is grouped into four sections that strongly fascinated the famous artist: air, water, land and fire.

About 40 machines currently stand in the Visitors Center and they were all built by Worldwide Museum Activities. WMA was founded by scientists working together to recreate da Vinci’s work in collaboration with the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Florence, Italy.

Da Vinci is a well-known painter, sculptor, musician, architect, engineer and anatomist who lived in the 15th century. Most known for his masterpieces the “Mona Lisa,” “Vitruvian Man” and “The Last Supper,” da Vinci was also an inventor.

The exhibit will be open, free of charge, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. until Jan. 3, 2015. According to the Evergreen Exhibitions web page, the showcase has appeared all over the world in cities such as Athens and Istanbul.

Visitors may touch sculptures such as the “Ornithopter-Bicycle,” which is operated by ropes, pulleys and cranks connecting the pilot to the device’s wings. By pumping ones arms and legs the bicycle pedals would power the wings and take flight.

Associate Director of Admissions Vanessa Valdez explained “Machines in Motion” shows full-scale devices that are fully operational, such as the Armored Car. Built in 1487, it is the ancestor of the contemporary tank, it takes on a turtle-shape with a conical shell and is equipped with cannons.

The modern day military tank wasn’t invented until 1916 and was first used in combat during World War I.

“It’s important for (students) to learn through reading but it’s also important to go that extra step and be able to see it, to touch it and to experience it,” the 32-year-old said. “It will challenge them more to think outside the box and think anything is possible…like da Vinci did so long ago.”

Da Vinci never tested out most of his ideas, but his notes and drawings mapped out exactly how the device would work, according to Leonardo da Vinci’s Inventions website. These sketches would become the foundation for inventions such as the modern day airplane and the machine gun.

Chris Flores, UTPA senior and student tour guide for the Visitors Center, explained that he is excited for students to come and experience da Vinci’s work on a personal level.

“A lot of the times (students) don’t get enough practical application of science…especially in elementary,” the Harlingen native said. “You kinda learn the basics but you will never get to see a bunch of ideas put together the way we have them here…they’re going to see a water saw which is a propeller that’s moved by water and it’s making a saw cut through wood…that’s genius. A child can see something like this and know that they have the potential to do that themselves.”

According to LiveScience, a science news website, da Vinci was 15 years old when he was sent to Florence to apprentice with sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio. Five years later he became a member of the Guild of Saint Luke, which was a common name for a city built for painters and artists.

Valdez believes the showcase will not only benefit students but people of all ages. Before the exhibit came to UTPA she didn’t know the extent of da Vinci’s contribution to present-day technology.

“The exhibit…has allowed me to remember things that I knew but didn’t realize were early ideas from da Vinci,” she said. “(The exhibit) shows us his ideas of what he thought the world could be…a lot of the inventions that we use today are because of da Vinci’s early works and people will be able to see that.”

At the age of 26 da Vinci became an independent master and soon took off to Milan where he lived for 17 years. There, he served as a painter, engineer, architect, and sculptor conducting some of his most well known inventions.

Mass communication major Paige Garcia hopes the exhibit will influence students to become more active around campus and help them discover an interest they didn’t know they had.

“If it weren’t for (da Vinci) most of the things we have today wouldn’t be around because everything needs a foundation and he gave that to the world,” the 18-year-old said. “Students will be able to realize that you can make anything if you put your mind to it and that will inspire others to do great things.”

Flores said the exhibit focuses on the concept of engineering with a touch of art, which he thinks will spark creativity in the minds of others.

“I want to wake (people) up. Nowadays a lot of things are standardized…everything’s getting away from the imagination,” the chemistry major said. “Everything is more stringent and rigorous…you don’t really get to express yourself and this is the perfect way to see it…you get to see (da Vinci’s) personality through every piece of his work.”

Garcia said one of her favorite piece was the “Ornithopter,” ancestor of today’s airplane. It is one of da Vinci’s most famous inventions and shows his enthusiasm for the potential of flight.

“I enjoyed being introduced to a different world and a different time,” the Edinburg native said. “It’s like a little piece of me was going through a journey back in time and being able to experience what was going on in the mind of da Vinci…to just think about where we would be if it weren’t for da Vinci.”

Twenty-six-year-old Flores thinks once people walk through the exhibit and experience da Vinci’s inventions, they will leave the exhibit a little more curious to how the world works.

“I like to say that we were all born a scientist,” the chemistry major said.  “When you were a baby and tested things out that was you being a scientist…you didn’t know what it was and you wanted to find out.”

Garcia feels confident “Machines in Motion” will inspire others to achieve great things like da Vinci once did.

“It just shows that human creativity is timeless,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what time period (creativity) is always going to be a part of us…it’s just a matter of looking for it.”