The Year of Invention in Central Illinois

by Cathie Neumiller
Peoria Riverfront Museum

Peoria Riverfront Museum celebrates the Year of Invention with decoys, medical inventions, LEGO art and Leonardo da Vinci.

Above: “Dinosaur” by LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya, the first contemporary artist to bring LEGO into the art world as a medium

Community-wide inspiration is the goal of the Peoria Riverfront Museum’s Year of Invention. The year-long event celebrates innovation and achievement in art, science and history in central Illinois and beyond with a unique lineup of exhibitions—from rare waterfowl decoys and top life-saving medical inventions, to the world’s largest LEGO exhibition and the art and inventions of Leonardo da Vinci.

Upcoming exhibitions include American Decoy: The Invention and Ten Medical Inventions That Changed the World, both opening February 9th. The world’s largest LEGO® exhibition, The Art of the Brick, presented by CEFCU, opens May 24th. The Way Things Go, the legendary art film starring a Rube Goldberg-style machine by Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss, and French Posters from the Collection of Lindsay Ma, which highlights the invention of the three-stone color lithograph, open September 14th. The internationally-acclaimed Da Vinci the Genius with the world-exclusive The Secrets of Mona Lisa, featuring three-dimensional versions of the artist’s inventions and his most famous work, opens November 16th.

American Decoy: The Invention
Waterfowl decoys are a uniquely American invention, first created by indigenous tribes 2,000 years ago to attract sustenance from the skies. Often called the finest visual art form ever created in the United States, the decoy has become an object of art, history and storytelling, coveted by collectors worldwide. 

For the first time ever, in the largest museum exhibition of its kind, the Peoria Riverfront Museum will bring together the world’s most prized decoys from some of its most prestigious and comprehensive collections. Celebrating carving in the Illinois River Valley and beyond, American Decoy: The Invention will include iconic decoys by famous American artists, many of whom lived in central Illinois along the Illinois River, including Charles H. Perdew (Henry), Charles Schoenheider Sr. (Peoria) and Robert Elliston (Bureau). 

In addition to showcasing its own decoy collection, the museum is borrowing from the collections of the Shelburne Museum, Illinois State Museum, Thomas K. Figge, Joe and Donna Tonelli, Ted and Judy Harmon of Decoys Unlimited Inc. and Ms. David J. Vaughan.

10 Medical Inventions That Changed the World
The mass production of penicillin, invented in the early 1940s at the Northern Regional Research Laboratory (now the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research) in Peoria, saved countless lives during World War II and beyond. Peoria has since become a national leader in healthcare research and development.

In a first-of-its-kind exhibition, the Peoria Riverfront Museum tells the stories of pioneering medicine—from the use of radiation to recent breakthroughs in virtual technologies and simulation—that have saved lives, cured diseases and made life better for billions of people worldwide. 

For this special exhibition, the museum collaborated with prestigious organizations including the Mayo Clinic, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Colonial Williamsburg, Varian Medical Systems, Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center and Illinois State Museum.

The Art of the Brick
The world’s largest and most elaborate LEGO display features more than 80 original sculptures made of LEGO bricks by artist Nathan Sawaya. Designed to inspire ingenuity and creativity, this exhibition elevates the ubiquitous children’s toy to the realm of visual art and engineering. 

Featured works include “Yellow,” the iconic life-sized sculpture of a man filled with LEGO bricks, as well as reimagined versions of some of the world's most famous masterpieces, such as Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Visitors inspired by Sawaya’s artwork can create their own LEGO brick sculptures in an interactive makerspace. This remarkable exhibition, which focuses on STEAM concepts, is presented by CEFCU.

Da Vinci – The Genius 
The world’s most comprehensive Leonardo da Vinci exhibition brings to life his genius as an inventor, artist, scientist, anatomist, engineer, architect, sculptor and philosopher. The exhibition was created with the assistance of the Museo Leonardo da Vinci along with engineer and art historian Pascal Cotte of Lumiere Technology. 

Working from da Vinci’s codices (bound manuscripts), Italian artisans created interactive, life-sized replicas of his machine inventions, including the first concepts of a car, bicycle, helicopter, parachute, submarine and military tank. Also featured are da Vinci’s anatomical studies, Anghiari battle drawings and Renaissance art, including a recreation of The Last Supper at actual size (29’ x 14.5’) and high-definition video animations explaining da Vinci’s Sforza Horse and Vitruvian Man.

The prize of the exhibition is The Secrets of Mona Lisa—the world’s only exact replica of the iconic painting—a 360-degree, 3D walkaround piece. The display is based on the first-ever analysis of its kind by Pascal Cotte, who was granted unprecedented access to the painting by the French government and the Louvre. Cotte’s findings startled the art world with 25 revelations about the piece, including identifying its original pigment colors from 1506.

Da Vinci – The Genius is sponsored by the Bielfeldt Foundation, PNC, Illinois Mutual, Dr. Allan and Marlene Campbell, and Oak River Foundation. iBi

All exhibitions are sponsored by the Visionary Society. More information on the Year of Invention, exhibition schedule and complementary programming can be found at