The National Geographic Museum used to have a permanent collection. I remember going in high school, looking at the nifty globe and various exploration-related things. (Ok, I admit, my memory is pretty shaky on what was actually in it. But it was cool.) A while back they took all that stuff out and switched to only doing special exhibits. Right now, there’s a fabulous display of Joel Sartore‘s photographs of rare animals around the outside of the building, but I really don’t think my pictures of someone else’ pictures would add up to a very good blog post. See some of them here or – hey, Joel is a good guy – buy the book.
Anyway. The other day I stopped in to see a traveling exhibit called “Da Vinci-The Genius.” It consisted mostly of models of devices Leonardo da Vinci sketched in his notebooks. He was a creative guy.
Like this one, the aerial screw:
The idea is that four guys would stand on the platform and push on the bars to make the screw turn and lift you through the air. (An actual one would have been much larger.) This is the thing that led to the stories that Leonardo da Vinci invented the helicopter.
I think “invented” is a pretty strong term, considering this would never have worked and was also, as far as anyone knows, never built. “Dreamed up something helicopter-like” is more like it.
Here’s a diving suit he dreamed up:
And a tank – one of many, many military machines in his notebooks:
Yes, a real one would be a lot bigger – presumably there’d be guys inside, firing those guns that stick out in every direction. He also came up with that bridge in the background. The idea was that soldiers could put it together in the field; the logs are notched in such a way that it doesn’t need any nails or pegs or rope or anything. So they could build it with logs, cross a stream, and dismantle it again.
One of the irritating things about the exhibit was the absence of actual artifacts…and presence of fake artifacts. I’m not talking about the models, which are obviously modern, and the point of the show. But right near the entrance, they had glass cases with reproductions of a couple of his notebooks, only you’d have to read the entire text next to them to realize they were reproductions. Yes, logic suggests they would be reproductions, since an actual Leonardo notebook would require a major security force, but still. I thought it was a little tacky.
Then there were also reproductions of paintings. It’s fine that they didn’t have any – he didn’t do very many, and it’s hard to get hold of them. But the wall text tells you, “Leonardo’s original works are considered too priceless to move from their permanent locations.” Right. So, explain to me why I saw the Lady with an Ermine, which belongs in Krakow, in San Francisco in 2003? It’s fine not to have them, but don’t make up reasons.
Also, having seen the Lady with an Ermine in person – in San Francisco and then, five years later, in Krakow – the digital reproduction is so lame as to not really be worth displaying. The original practically glows. It’s stunning. That Leonardo knew how to handle paint. The digital version? Not so much. It’s just, you know, a flat copy of a painting.
So, I’d say the exhibit is worth dropping by if you’re in the neighborhood, because the models are neat, and you can play with some of them, but not worth a special trip to D.C. The exhibit is created by “Grande Exhibitions – Creators of museum quality traveling exhibitions.” Here’s their website for this exhibit.
I actually was much more excited about the exhibit across the hall, Design for the Other 90%. It’s about products designed to solve problems for poor people, mostly in the developing world. Like a cheap water pump that brings up clean water from the aquifer, or an inexpensive, easy-to-assemble shelter. One of my favorites was a water barrel shaped like a very wide tire, so you could put a rope through the center and roll it home instead of having to lug it. But the exhibit didn’t allow photography, and I am a rule-follower, so you’ll have to go see these things yourself. It’s put together by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
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