BRADENTON -- The inventions range from the simple to the sublime. There are ball bearings and gears and a cam shaft. There's a helicopter that would work, if it had a power source. There are perpetual motion contraptions that never had a chance to work, though Leonardo da Vinci, the man who invented all these things, didn't know that.
Back in one corner, there's a partially dismantled Chevy engine. It seems out of place in this room full of beautiful wooden re-creations of da Vinci's machines. But there's a reason it's there.
"Da Vinci invented virtually every single part of the internal combustion engine," Mark Rodgers tells a visitor. "Everything but the spark plugs."
Rodgers is the director of the Da Vinci Machines Exhibition that opens today at the Bradenton Auditorium.
The exhibition brings together about 60 machines, based on da Vinci's drawings and specifications and built by Florentine crafters from the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Italy. Visitors can actually operate about half the machines.
It's on loan to Rodgers and his brother John, who have brought it to Bradenton,
where it will stay for at least the next five months.
About 80 invited guests came to a sneak peek at the auditorium Thursday. For most, it was their first chance to see the exhibit.
"This is the best thing that's ever happened in this auditorium," said Judy Sedgeman, the chairman of Realize Bradenton. "I've seen a lot of exhibits of Leonardo's work, but I've never seen anything like this."
Previous exhibitions have shown da Vinci's drawings, or maybe tiny replicas. This is the first major exhibition to have fall-scale re-recreations of his work, along with large-scale models.
Among the models are a war ship equipped with a long wooden arm. The arm has a fierce-looking curved blade on the end of, and it could be raised and maneuvered. The idea was that the ship could pull up next to an enemy's ship and use the blade to destroy its sails, leaving it helpless to attack or escape.
There's a bicycle that looks almost exactly like a modern bicycle. Perhaps most impressively, there's the chassis of a machine that researchers have figured out was a mechanical lion that could be wound up so that it would rear up on its back legs. A door on its chest would open and doves would fly out. It was the first wind-up toy, and da Vinci built it as a gift to the King of France.
Bradenton is only the third city that has hosted the exhibit. The first two were St. Louis and Denver.
"This was in Denver, a major city," said Elliott Falcione, the executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It was in St. Louis, a major city. Now it's in Bradenton. How cool is that?"
The Rodgers Brothers said they had a few reasons for picking Bradenton. Even though Bradenton itself isn't a big city, there a huge population areas nearby, and the exhibition will be a big enough event to draw people here from places like Tampa and Orlando.More signifcantly, they said, is that Bradenton is enjoying a renaissance of it own, so it made sense to have the most famous Renaissance man be a part of it.
"The theme of the exhibition is 'Discover the Da Vicni in You,'" Mark Rodgers said. "Every morning when you wake up, we hope this exhibition will inspire you to dream, think, imagine and create."
It runs at least through April 15 at the Bradenton Municipal Auditorium, 1005 First Ave. W., Bradenton. Hours are from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. It's closed Monday in November and December. Tickets are $15.95 for adults, $13.95 for students, teachers, military and seniors, $11.95 for children. Call 941-932-9484 or go to www.discoverdavinci.com
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.