Leonardo in Bloom

Eli Whitney Museum

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The 23rd Leonardo Challenge

Leonardo in Bloom

Thumbnail of Leonardo in Bloom project

Just Blown Away


Molly Gambardella's dandelion captures the spirit of the 23rd Leonardo Challenge completely. It's cluster of delicate seeds wants to be loosed to launch new growth. Yours is the breath that will give them flight.
Thank you.

The only difference between a weed and a flower is judgement. We encountered a virtue of flowers that was unforeseen when last September we chose them as the object of the Challenge. Flowers transcend borders and walls. their free exchange reminds us of the essential power of migration.

The record number of artists (140) and submissions (175) and record support Thursday night will dissolve boundaries. It will fund, in part or fully, workshops for 320 children - children from Iris (Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services) and the Fresh Air Fund; children from our partner programs like Music Haven; children from the many Title 1 schools we serve, children from families whose resources are too stretched to cover adventurous summer programs. It will underwrite experiments to expand enrollments in domains that may have lingering gender identities.


The Challenge works because it is intricately a part of our year. It's not an accident that 1000 daffodils blossomed to accent the occasion. They are part of a plan to enrich the diversity of the site underwritten by the Carte family. The invitations were constructed here. The design was Sally's. More than a dozen Apprentices contributed the intricate handwork. The tents have moved to the spaces in which they will shelter the summer's programs. The small lights have been cut up to illuminate 4000 ElectriCity kits for schools.

The event is an apex of our Apprentices' year. They contribute artistically and practically. Over 500 guests become an opportunity for them to test their resourceful teamwork. Each artist who contributes work becomes a teacher who stretches the Apprentices' imaginations.


Fertile soils nurture beautiful flowers. Generous artisanship created the resplendent feast. Doug Coffin's glorious Big Green Pizza Trucks and Catering, Caseus' exquisite cheese flowers and Black Hog Beer, Koffee's delightful cocktails, Small Kitchen, Big Taste's elegant salads, Whole G's fabulous breads and desserts, wine from 14 Hands Winery and Beaulieu Vinyards, and Edible Arrangements contributed the evening's most delectable bouquet. Bun Lai and Miya's provides a post-Challenge sustainable opportunity to the artists and volunteers.


Some gardeners need blooms in neatly pruned rows - some surrender to the unpredictable richness of serendipity. We revel on and in the ample crowd that supports the Challenge...but regret that we cannot connect meaningfully with each and every guest and contributor. Thank you for being a part of the gathering and the Museum. Trust that without your presence and generosity our garden would not be complete.

And finally, we hope to see you again next year.

4.26.18 - The 24th Leonardo Challenge

Bill and Sally

Inventions of the Flower

A flower's bloom beckons – Notice me! Its colors, scent, texture and anatomy summon suitors with messages of hunger, nectar and procreation. That lust for life may underlie the power that summons us. We make flowers our companions. When our voices seem inadequate, we appropriate their voices to speak our congratulations, our confidences, our condolences. Long ago we invested in flowers mythical and divine associations to narrate creations we cannot explain. We still revel in their tidings of Winter's end. We breed and domesticate flowers. We exploit their alchemy for medicine and witchcraft. We extract their colors and fragrances. We press and dry them. We trade them over great distances…all to wrestle with their ephemeral presence. To preserve the essence of flowers, we make art.

Leonardo's Garden

In his notebooks and paintings, Leonardo collects flowers. They are rarely simple decorations. The scientist Leonardo draws flowers, often as subjects unto themselves, with precise anatomy that will set the standard for Renaissance botanical illustration. The artist Leonardo gives flowers meanings and mystery. Madonna with Flower, the earliest painting attributed to him, depicts Mary and a pensive child studying a cruciform flower. Leonardo illustrates myths and allegories with flowers that represent pleasure and pain, truth and deception, innocence and desire.

The Challenge

The bloom is the fullest expression of a flower's creativity.
Let a flower seed your creativity.

As if to forestall the brutal mechanics of Darwin's science, the early Victorians codified the language of flowers in elaborate dictionaries: a fixed meaning and code for each bloom. We've all but forgotten those.

We still need to stop and surrender to the beauty and mystery of flowers. Pick a flower from your memory, your imagination, or from a random walk. Evolve a flower in paper, steel, glass, or any improbable medium. Arrange a flower in an unexpected bouquet or myth. Plant a flower in a fresh and unfamiliar garden. Let your flower beckon – Notice Me!

The Benefit

Leonardo da Vinci painted with unrivaled vision, explored science and modern logic and invented with pure imagination. The Leonardo Challenge celebrates one of his inventions – improvisational creativity. One hundred artists, designers and playful spirits will transform a common object – this year, the flower – with wit, whimsy and artistry.

The April 27th benefit will revel in those artists' visions. Through their generosity, and yours, the evening will support workshops and outreach to train a next generation to explore and embrace the world with all their senses.

Molly Gambardella 2

Nebamum garden text 5

Leo in Bloom 800 x 400

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