Mischell Riley Tackles Da Vinci, Trafficking Through Sculpture


“Inside the Mind of Da Vinci” takes its inspiration from his inventive spirit.

Outside the University of Nevada, Reno’s Knowledge Center, a massive head of Renaissance inventor Leonardo Da Vinci lies on its side, its 10-by-23 foot likeness aiming to inspire the students privileged to attend class here.


The scythed chariot is one of Da Vinci’s many inventions depicted in the piece.


Representations of many Da Vinci creations line its intricate interior. But this university was not the original home of this sculpture, made of bronze, metal and recycled glass.




Mischell Riley’s husband as well as a dedicated crew help her finish the sculpture.

The artist behind Inside the Mind of Da Vinci, Carson City’s Mischell Riley, had been attending Burning Man since 2010. When event organizers announced that the 2016 art theme would be Da Vinci’s Workshop, Riley seized the opportunity to bring Da Vinci to life, given that she was a fan of his work.

“When I heard the theme, it inspired me to do another artist,” Riley said.

After an unsuccessful attempt at getting a grant from Burning Man, Riley and her crew raised $7,000 to pay for the sculpture’s construction, mostly conducted at the Generator, which took three months (many of which in 19-hour shifts) to complete. How does getting up at 3am to work on an art project sound?


Da Vinci’s head appears to gaze into the clouds on a brisk spring day.

After Burning Man ended, Riley approached UNR’s libraries department with the idea of displaying Inside the Mind on campus, given the university’s important role in the project: the Delamare Library was where the 3D prototype for the project was printed.

“I asked (the library): “Can I show off what I did with your equipment?”, Riley recalled.


The interior includes a representation of Da Vinci’s horse sculpture from 1482.

After receiving the necessary permits, Inside the Mind of Da Vinci was installed at its present location last November. The piece will remain at UNR until October, when it will be installed at the Carson City Community Center.

As for this year’s Burning Man? A self-funded 15-20 foot bust of Maya Angelou, resting on three stacked books, titled Maya’s Mind, is up her sleeve (construction had yet to begin at press time). After the event, she plans to put a version of the piece on display in Washington, D.C.

“Awaken” still looks a lot like “Freedom” with just one month until Sculpture Fest, but changes are on the way for the sculpture, a call to action on child and sex trafficking.
The finished “Awaken”-new base and all- is placed at downtown’s Eddy beer garden before the start of Sculpture Fest.


Riley also contributed to the recent Sculpture Fest event, bringing Awaken, a revised version of last year’s Freedom.  For the event, Awaken, which serves as a commentary on the cause of child and sex trafficking (funds donated to Riley went to related organizations), was put on display inside the new Eddy community space on Sierra Street in the southern part of downtown. A 3-foot high circular base was added, along with new stone-like stains. Many of the sun and flame decorations from Freedom were removed, as well.

“Awaken” becomes an instant attraction upon the garden’s opening.

The piece’s sleeping state is meant to symbolize a region unaware that trafficking occurs in their own backyard. The Awaken project alone was home to 21 trafficking victims in a special shelter as of Friday morning.

An infographic and awareness bracelet sit at the sculpture’s base. The last number, 18, had jumped to 23 in the two days since “Awaken” was installed. 






Within 24 hours, Riley’s call for action was already proving itself as effective. “We put two more in (a shelter) last night, so we’re up to 23,” she said.




Besides “Awaken,” the recently-opened Eddy garden features food trucks, beanbag games, and, of course, beer for patrons to enjoy.



As the poster child of sorts for Sculpture Fest, Awaken quickly became a crowd favorite. Adjacent to the installation was a booth where Eddy patrons could learn more about its trafficking message and purchase some of Riley’s commercial bronze work.

Available for sale at Riley’s booth are models of her Da Vinci sculpture and the Leonardo horse within it, as well as a bust of Mark Twain.

From Sculpture Fest to Burning Man and beyond, Riley’s work aims to inspire those who want to make their lives and the world better than in the past.


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