Monday, April 15, 2013



As inventors go, Eli Whitney, the proud papa of the cotton gin and the champion of interchangeable parts for muskets, and the grand daddy of Renaissance men, Leonardo da Vinci, would probably have a lively discussion if they ever met.  Their ideas and collaborative philosophies will be united on Thursday, April 25 when the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden celebrates its 19th annual Leonardo Challenge.

From 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., the Eli Whitney Museum at 915 Whitney Avenue will display and demonstrate the imagination and genius of approximately one hundred artists and artisans from all over the country who have contributed pieces for this year's creative event.

Every year for the past 19 years, an item has been selected - from clothespins to playing cards to keys to ice cream spoons - to spark the grey cells to ignite.  This year's challenge is "Brush with Genius," inspired by the incredible achievements of Leonardo da Vinci who excelled in fields from architecture to anatomy, music to mathematics, painting to sculpture.  How appropriate that this yearly challenge pays tribute to this man of extraordinary ideas.

Brushes,  tools with bristles, can be used to apply a young lady's make up, wielded to groom your yellow labrador's silky coat, given the task of shining teeth or painting a priceless work of art.  Brushes have a hundred and one uses from applying an egg wash to shine a pastry tart to buffying your best black boots.  The dilemma for artists will be to create a new vision for a brush, in a painting, mobile, clothing, piece of jewelry, game, toy, furniture or sculpture.

This year's event includes spirits from Fetzer Winery, cheese treasures from Fromagerie Caseus, gourmet treats from Doug Coffin's Kitchens that includes the Big Green Truck, old world confections from Whole G's artisan bakers, Small Kitchen, Big Taste's hand painted cookies and coffee and treats from Koffee.

Sponsors are The Cameron and Jane Baird Foundation and IKEA.   The works inspired by brushes will be on display until Sunday, May 12 at the museum.  Proceeds from the silent auction sale will benefit scholarships for children to attend museum programs after school and in the summer as well as for youth training.  Hours are Saturday 11-3 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m., and Wednesday - Friday late afternoons.

According to Sally Hill, associate director, who designed the inspiring invitation, "I will once again be contributing a lamp.  I found the most amazing guy in Georgia who makes hearth brooms, "The Broom Brothers," a father and son operation.  We are collaborating on the wiring and the design and we are calling it "A Broom for a Little Light Sweeping."  Ever since a board member suggested the fundraiser almost two decades ago, the staff have been charged with contributing to the event.  "The first year we were afraid no one would send in an item so we all were asked to make five." Fortunately, their fears were uncalled for and contributions flow in each year.

For tickets ($55) or major sponsorships ($250, $500, $1000, or $2500), call the museum at 203-777-1833 or go online  to

Be inspired to take a brush, a fine feathered one or a broad banded one, and create a tribute to its beauty and possibilities.  Failing that, come to the Eli Whitney Museum to applaud the unique works artists and artisans have created.

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