A Letter from Emily Smith, Director at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

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Vollis Simpson dies at his home, May 31, 2013

Posted in SPACES News
vollis-simpson-lucama-nc-2011-aPhoto by Fred Scruton

Vollis Simpson’s delicate balance of wind, gravity, monumentally, and whimsy was hidden away deep in the North Carolina countryside, but an emerald city seduction would begin as soon you approached that last turn in Wiggins Mill Road– and a sliver of sparkling ankle started to show through.  The full reflectors-glinting, birds-flying, loggers-sawing, fans-spinning, guitarists-strumming, dials-turning ‘what just happened here’ effect gave his “Whirligig Farm” its “Acid Park” nickname.  Mr. Simpson could typically be found across the road welding and grinding away in front of his former repair shop.  Looking like central casting for what an artist doesn’t look like, his old-fashioned country gentleman’s under-emotive demeanor made him seem an unlikely maker of such exuberant “windmills,” as he called them.  Late in the day when dusk started to set in, passing headlights would set off bursts of reflector fireworks throughout his animated carnival.

Mr. Simpson frequently sheltered and fed stray animals, and he would shout out warnings to get away from the road– as cars driven by speeders “always talking on their damn cell phones” raced by.  I first visited Mr. Simpson in 2007 and returned bearing prints about once a year since– and I was very pleased that he would remember me in the daily stream of visitors.  Eventually he

invited me to visit the work area around his nearby home, and allowing me to pursue nighttime “paint-with-light” photography, he would unlock the gate to the ‘farm’ before leaving his workshop for the day.  A rigger and metal worker by profession (with, one assumes, a long-hidden flair for the extraordinary spectacle), Mr. Simpson’s work (now being re-located and restored) made up one of America’s great art environments– a mind-blowing affirmation of the creative spirit.

~Fred Scruton

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