Da Vinci’s ideas come alive at Cranbrook in new exhibit

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published July 30, 2018

 A robot drummer was just one of the many innovative ideas that da Vinci sketched in his personal notebooks.

A robot drummer was just one of the many innovative ideas that da Vinci sketched in his personal notebooks.

Photo by Donna Agusti


BIRMINGHAM — According to Janet Beylin, a museum educator at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, Leonardo da Vinci had one of the most notable artistic and intellectual minds in history.

But if he was around today, he’d probably get a kick out of watching cat videos on the web.

“He liked to keep notebooks, which were for the most part personal — he never intended (for) anyone to see them. Among these codices in the notebooks might be some kinds of prospective ideas, but they were mostly just his doodlings,” Beylin explained. “If he saw an interesting cloud formation, he would sketch that. One manuscript had a drawing of playing kittens on the top. He was trying to capture the way they moved. Another has (sketches) for a simple machine, and then under that is a shopping list.”

Personal drawings, reproductions of da Vinci’s artwork and inventions, and lots of hands-on displays help to paint a picture of the personal life of the historical figure at “Da Vinci Machines and Robotics,” the newest traveling exhibition to land at the Cranbrook Institute of Science. The exhibition will run through January, with special events and lectures scheduled throughout its duration.

Visitors to the exhibition will have a unique opportunity to interact with more than 60 machines developed from original da Vinci drawings, including aeronautical, nautical and hydraulic machines, along with architectural innovations and ideas that led to huge leaps in civil engineering.

“‘Da Vinci’ is an interactive exhibit where guests can touch and even operate reconstructed models of da Vinci’s extraordinary machines,” said Dr. Michael Stafford,  director of the Cranbrook Institute of Science, in a press release. “Kids of all ages will be immersed in design thinking as they operate da Vinci’s machines. Adults will enjoy witnessing all of his masterpieces under one roof, and everyone will appreciate seeing the world’s first helicopter, tank, scuba gear, car and more.”

Museum-quality replicas of the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper” will be on display next to more modern ways to explore da Vinci’s legacy, like computer animations of his engineering ideas, film screenings, and Beylin’s personal favorite: a highly interactive children’s section.

“It’s a really fun thing for the kids,” she said. “In one (area) we have wind tunnels with different diameters, and they’re tasked with taking a paper cup and getting it to float at a certain level. When you first put it in as is, the cup just gets pushed out. But we have scissors there and we ask, ‘What can you do to the cup to make it float?’”

PNC Bank is a presenting sponsor of the exhibition, which opened in late July, coming all the way from Florence, Italy. Through the rest of the year, guests can visit “Da Vinci Machines and Robotics” for between $6 and $8, in addition to regular museum admission.

For more information, including museum hours and a schedule of events to coincide with the exhibit, visit science.cranbrook.edu.