The Leonardo starts unpacking artifacts from Pompeii, for exhibition opening Saturday

With the help of three Italian workmen, Aphrodite made a grand entrance at The Leonardo Museum of Creativity and Innovation on Monday — and she didn’t move an inch.

A 1,200-pound, 2,000-year-old statue of the Greek goddess — excavated nearly a century ago from the ruins of the volcano-stricken Italian town of Pompeii — was ceremonially uncrated Monday, as crews started setting up “Pompeii: The Exhibition” at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City.

“Every time you open a crate, it’s like seeing it for the first time,” said Jackie Hoff, registrar for the touring exhibition, which opens Saturday at The Leonardo, at 209 E. 500 South.

The exhibition features more than 150 artifacts from Pompeii, preserved when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, burying everyone and everything in a mound of ash. The artifacts, on loan from the Naples National Archaeological Museum, include a bronze statue, fresco paintings, household items and full-body casts of the twisted human forms of residents asphyxiated by the volcano’s heat and noxious gases.

The exhibition, Hoff said, “is really this interesting capture of a day in the life.”

Among the features of the exhibition are an introductory video, a reproduction of a Roman villa atrium, and a 4D theater that simulates Vesuvius’ eruption.

Pompeii was a thriving commercial port before the eruption, a center for trade and the military. The eruption buried Pompeii in volcanic ash, suffocating an estimated 2,000 residents — and also preserving the site for centuries, until the city was discovered and excavations began in the mid-18th century. The Aphrodite statue was excavated sometime in the 1920s or 1930s, Hoff said.

The logistics of installing the touring exhibition in The Leonardo have been tricky, said Alexandra Hesse, the museum’s executive director. The exhibition begins on the museum’s ground floor, where visitors will first encounter the Aphrodite marble. Visitors will then take the museum’s escalator upstairs, where most of the exhibition is to be installed, then back downstairs for the final portion of the display.

“We didn’t want to move the planes,” Hess said, referring to the C-131 U.S. military cargo plane and the Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter jet on display in “Flight,” in The Leonardo’s main exhibition space.

Installing the exhibition usually takes two or three weeks, Hoff said, but at The Leonardo, workers are doing it in a week — because the exhibition closed only two weeks ago in St. Louis. Further complicating the process is the fact that The Leonardo doesn’t have a loading dock, so the semi-trailer trucks carrying the artifacts had to park on 200 East, and forklifts moved the heavy crates the rest of the way.

“Pompeii: The Exhibition” runs from Saturday, Nov. 23, to May 3, 2020. Tickets are $24.99 for adults, $19.99 for children (3 to 15), and $21.99 for seniors (65 and up) and military with valid ID. The group rate, for 15 or more, is $18.99. The school group price is $8.99 per student. Leonardo members can get in for $9.99. Advance ticket reservations are recommended; go to theleonardo.org/pompeii or to The Leonardo box office, at 209 S. 500 East, in Library Square in downtown Salt Lake City.