The Serbian-American inventor and futurist Nikola Tesla developed the alternating-current electrical system of transformers, motors and generators that is now the standard power system of the 20th century.
He also designed the first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, pioneered radar technology and X-ray technology (his "Tesla coil" is still used in radio technology today) and began work on one of the first global communication systems. He also planned to transmit power wirelessly and therefore for free.
Tesla also had a passion for pigeons, a fear of germs, an obsession with the number three and the color purple, and had such a strong aversion to pearls he would refuse to talk with any woman wearing them.
Unfortunately Tesla (1856–1943) had zero instincts for monetizing his inventions. He sold his AC system patents to George Westinghouse and lost the much-publicized "War of the Currents" to Thomas Edison, an irrepressible impresario who was determined to sell his direct-current system to the nation. Edison’s DC system never caught on, but through his aggressive business and public relations tactics, Edison crushed Westinghouse and is remembered in history the way Tesla is not.
Tesla died alone in New York in 1943; he was living in a cheap hotel.
Though he was forgotten for years, Tesla now enjoys something of an academic and cult flowing. And perhaps not surprisingly, artists rank among his fans.
And it’s artists and art galleries who are once again hosting "The Tesla Project," a family-friendly fest of science- and art-making activities, live music and an exhibit of Tesla-inspired art on Saturday at the Canopy art complex.
It’s the third iteration of "The Tesla Project," staged to dovetail with the inventor’s July 10 birthday.
"Tesla loved science for the sake of science, much like many artists love art for the sake of art," says Cathy Savage, who organized Austin’s first "Tesla Project" in 2010, a happening that attracted an estimated 800 people.
"A lot of artists can also relate to his altruistic desire to harness energy, his impulse to give it away for free just to make the world a better place."
For this year’s Tesla extravaganza, Savage teamed up with Hayley Gillespie of Art Science Gallery, who has curated a Tesla-inspired art exhibit.
Activities for the free event — "I felt that in the spirit of Tesla, the entire event needed to be free," says Savage — include Tesla T-shirt printing opportunities, a make-your-own Tesla coil workshop, screenings of the PBS-produced documentary "Tesla: Master of Lightning" documentary, robot-making demonstrations and myriad science-related hands-on activities.
Though free, the event is a benefit for Girls Start, the science and math nonprofit educational organization. Proceeds will come from a silent auction, a costume contest and sales of artist-made Tesla-related items. You can even purchase a color-changing commemorative cup, which turns Tesla-favored purple when filled with cold liquid.
Savage became smitten with Tesla several years ago after a visit to Niagara Falls, where a statue of the inventor stands.
Since then Savage has made the idiosyncratic polymath the subject of many of her creative efforts, including a series of fine art prints and collages. She’s printed up Tesla tea towels and made light switch plates with graphics pulled from Tesla’s patent documents, which will be for sale during the Saturday event.
So that people can reenact the "War of the Currents," Savage made wooden Tesla and Edison finger puppets using a sophisticated laser cutter and incisor.
Savage has even crafted a papier-mâché Tesla action figure, though it won’t be for sale. "That one is too special for me to let go of," she says.