Seeing the world the way da Vinci did Boston: Curiosity and creativity are emphasized in the exhibit at the Museum of Science.

Taking the Kids

April 20, 1997|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Reggie didn't get it.

"Who cares about some guy who died nearly 500 years ago?" she groused in the museum lobby, one eye on the shopping mall across the street.

That this particular "guy" happened to be Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most creative thinkers of all time, didn't make any difference. Nor was my 11-year-old daughter moved to learn that this massive (15,000-square-foot) Boston Museum of Science exhibit is the largest ever to explore da Vinci's brilliance as a scientist and inventor as well as an artist.

I had read that critics were questioning the authenticity of some of the included artworks, and I was glad to see many disclaimers noting that Renaissance works frequently were the result of collaboration and were not signed.

But art is not what this exhibit is about. And I was relieved to learn other parents had faced as much resistance as I had to the prospect of spending an afternoon with Leonardo da Vinci.

Once inside the exhibit, kids will forget their pressing need to be elsewhere and become engrossed in trying to write backward (as the left-handed da Vinci did), or build an arched bridge they can walk over, or change the flow of water, or watch the dissection of a cow heart.

Kids can relate to da Vinci. As well as being a dreamer, he was a procrastinator who more often than not left his projects unfinished, to the dismay of those who had paid him in advance. He was curious about everything he saw: how birds flew, how water flowed, how people were formed.

Da Vinci, we learned, loved animals so much he refused to eat meat. He bought pigeons at the market just so he could set them free. His imagination was wild: futuristic cities, powerful weapons, flying machines and submarines.

Like many families, we moved quickly through the "boring part" (read: art displays) and into the more interactive areas addressing da Vinci's work as a scientist. These rooms were teeming with noise, activity -- and kids.

"I thought all we'd do was look at paintings and it would be boring," explained 12-year-old Reid Sacco, who added he never knew da Vinci did anything besides paint.

That's the point of this exhibit, of course. Da Vinci was a scientist, inventor and engineer as much as an artist. Though fewer than 15 of his works of art are left, da Vinci remains the quintessential Renaissance Man, his interests and abilities ranging from botany to anatomy, from engineering to architecture.

He left thousands of pages of detailed notes scribbled everywhere in his "code" of backward writing. He passionately hated war but designed weapons. I watched as one father explained da Vinci's concept of a tank and another the machine gun.

A few feet away, children were busy twirling a swing bridge designed to slow an enemy's advance. Others were experimenting with water pressure.

"We would like children to take from the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit the idea that his genius is grounded in an essentially simple principle -- curiosity about and close observation of the natural world around us," explained museum spokesman Edwin B. Marshall Jr.

Because the Museum of Science's audience is primarily families with children, tremendous efforts have been made to make this exhibit as interactive as possible. "They're not getting bored," said Maureen Ramlow, approvingly watching her children. Of course, she added, "We'll find out later if they've gotten anything out of this."

If you go...

Advance reservations are encouraged for the exhibit, which will remain in Boston until Sept. 1. Admission to the exhibit and the Museum of Science is $10 for adults: $8 for children 3-14 and seniors. Tickets can be bought with a credit card by calling 617-523-1441.

Several Boston hotels and restaurants are offering packages in conjunction with the exhibit. Call 888-SEE-BOSTON. We opted for the Royal Sonesta, right next door on the Cambridge side of the Charles River, with its indoor pool and $139 a night package for a family of four, including two tickets to the museum and free use of the health club. Call 617-491-3600.

And, yes, there is a mall directly across the street.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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