Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Celebrates 1 Year!
Stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, Vollis Simpson used parts from a junked B-29 bomber to make a windmill-powered clothes washer. After the war, he made a windmill to heat his home. When he retired in 1985 from careers as a mechanic and mover of large buildings, Simpson wanted “to find something …better than watching television.”
Simpson’s whimsical assemblages are created from inexpensive and recycled metal, including scaffolding, bicycle wheels, propellers, street signs and plumbing supplies. Characterized by simplicity and wit, they feature animals, bicyclists, musicians, carousels, lumberjacks, airplanes, rocket ships and angels, as well as abstract designs. Small works can sit comfortably on a table while the nearly thirty towering, large-scale constructions in the pasture across from his workshop rose to heights of nearly fifty feet. Larger works combine multiple motifs, with propellers, pinwheels, flanges and cups that clatter and spin in the wind. Together with the surrounding trees, they also have reflectors made from road signs, creating bursts of illumination in the headlights of passing cars after dark, and earned the nickname "Acid Park" by those who saw it.
The City of Wilson began work on the whirligig park in 2010, with Simpson’s whirligigs falling into disrepair as he grew older and no longer able to maintain them, the plans to restore and preserve the whirligigs was timely. The park’s nonprofit foundation bought the whirligigs, and teams began moving them into a workshop a few at a time to rebuild and restore them with Simpson able to advise. Upon his death in 2013 at age 94, the New York Times published an obituary for Simpson, describing him as “a visionary artist of the junkyard…who made metal scraps into magnificent things that twirled and jangled and clattered when he set them out on his land.” The story of Wilson’s plan to use the beloved whirligigs to reinvigorate the city center threw a spotlight onto the community. In 2013, whirligigs were named North Carolina’s official folk art and the City of Wilson recieved grants from ArtPlace America, the Kresge Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts to help acheieve the goal of opening the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum. In 2016, the Kohler Foundation partnered in the project, providing the means to complete the conservation efforts and took ownership of 31 large-scale whirligigs and about 50 smaller works, completing the restoration project. The Vollis Simpson Whirligig park held the grand opening on November 2, 2017 to much celebration by the events hundreds of attendees.
Celebrating their first year of operation, a massive effort continues to document, repair, and conserve the whirligigs, originally constructed of recycled and salvaged parts, and damaged from nearly 30 years of exposure to the elements. New protocols for conservation of outdoor folk art and vernacular artist environments have been established through this project’s pioneering process. The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum relies on donations in order to insure that these incredible sculptures stay beautiful and working well. Please help by following one of the links below to make a one-time donation or to become a member. If you would rather receive a paper donation form, you can email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org.