Mark Rodgers hopes the exhibition he's bringing to Bradenton will inspire you, educate you, even change your life. He knows it had that effect on him.
Rodgers is the director of the Da Vinci Machines exhibition that opens this weekend at the Bradenton Municipal Auditorium. It features about 60 of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions, created by Florentine crafters from the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Italy based on da Vinci's original drawings.
Rodgers didn't know much about da Vinci when a friend suggested that he take over the exhibition.
" 'Mona Lisa' and 'The Last Supper,' that's all I knew," Rodgers said. "We had no clue what was in the boxes when they arrived. When we unpacked them, we still had no idea what they were."
Rodgers and his brother John were real estate developers in St. Louis and took on the exhibit as a business opportunity when the real estate market slowed.
The exhibit has turned him into an unabashed da Vinci enthusiast. When he talks about de Vinci, he can't hide his excitement.
"He made 44,000 drawings of his inventions," Rodgers said. "He considered them works of art, which they absolutely are. Between 17 and 22 percent of his inventions were actually made and used during his lifetime. For an inventor, that's pretty darn good. Pretty darn good. He wanted to make life better for the common person. He didn't want kings and royalty at his funeral. He said he wanted his casket followed by 60 beggars."
None of da Vinci's inventions actually survived, Rodgers said, because they were all made of wood. So this exhibition is the first chance people have had to see, touch and operate the machines in hundreds of years.
"We have 60 machines and about 50 percent of them are interactive," he said. "You can actually touch them and work them."
Bradenton is only the third American city that has hosted this exhibition. It originated in St. Louis and then traveled to Denver. It was a huge hit in both cities.
There are some new features to the Bradenton exhibition that people in St. Louis and Denver didn't get a chance to see.
Among them are digital images of the "Mona Lisa" and other da Vinci masterpieces, licensed by the Leonardo da Vinci Museum and printed on canvas. They're the exact size of the master's originals.
"This is as close as you can get to seeing the actual 'Mona Lisa,'" Rodgers said.
There's also a huge digital reproduction of "The Last Supper" that measures 12-by-22 feet, about three-quarters the size of the original.
Also new is a presentation about da Vinci's horses -- mechanical devices that actually reared up on their hind legs, an impressive feat for the early 16th century -- that da Vinci built and presented to the king of France. Recent research has determined how the horses operated, and the exhibition reveals the secrets through animation.
The exhibition features hand-crafted re-creations of such inventions as a helicopter, a catapult and a bicycle.
There's also a film presentation titled "Da Vinci genius" that will be shown both at the auditorium and in the newly upgraded Bishop Planetarium at the South Florida Museum.
Bradenton is a much smaller city than any of the others that have hosted the Da Vinci Machines Exhibition, but the exhibition has proven to be a destination attraction that can draw people from surrounding areas.
"We looked all over Florida," John Rodgers said. "We looked at Sarasota, Tampa, St. Petersburg, even Miami, and, of course, Orlando. We think Bradenton is the ideal place for this exhibition."
Bradenton's central location makes it ideal, John Rodgers said. He also said he and his brother are impressed by the "renaissance" going on in Bradenton, sparked by the Riverwalk and the Manatee Performing Arts Center, and they wanted to enhance it with this exhibition.
Details: Nov. 16-April 15, Bradenton Municipal Auditorium, 1005 First Ave. W., Bradenton. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, Noon-6 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday in November and December. Tickets: $15,95 adults, $13.95 students. Teachers, military, seniors, $11.95 children; others packages available. Information: 941-932-9484, www.discoverdavinci.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.