Vollis Simpson Whirligig ParkVollis Simpson (1919 - 2013)
Lucama, North Carolina
301 Goldsboro Street S., Wilson, NC, 27893, United States
1985 to 2013
The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park is open every day (including holidays) from 5am to midnight.
About the Artist/Site
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.” He started making whirligigs for aesthetic pleasure, rather than practical function, and, 92 years old as of this writing (fall 2011), he has never stopped.
Simpson’s whimsical assemblages are fashioned 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 are sized to sit comfortably on a table while the nearly thirty towering, large-scale constructions in the pasture across from his workshop rise to heights of nearly fifty feet. Simpson paints all of his creations with bright, bold colors. 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 sport reflectors, creating bursts of illumination in the headlights of passing cars after dark.
In 1996, four of Simpson’s creations were commissioned and installed at the Atlanta Summer Olympics. His work is displayed in the North Carolina Museum in Raleigh and the High Museum in Atlanta. In Baltimore, one of his large-scale whirligigs stands at the entrance to the American Visionary Art Museum. Fifty-five foot tall, the three-ton structure rests on a sign pole salvaged from a gas station and sports angels, cats, airplanes and carousels made from oil filters, milkshake canisters and waffle-iron parts. Simpson’s work has been featured in books and magazines and once graced the windows of Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan. The road outside his shop has been re-named “Windmill Road” in his honor.
In 2012, twenty-nine of the large whirligigs in Simpson’s pasture will be moved about ten miles up the road to a two acre downtown sculpture park in Wilson, NC. Following their restoration and repainting, they will become the centerpiece for an arts and cultural district, workforce training for mechanics and conservators, and educational programs exploring the intersections of art, science, and sustainability. Simpson has been involved in this project, which is part of North Carolina’s larger plans for fostering arts-driven economic development.
Update, 2014: From 2012 to 2014, thirty of the large whirligigs in Vollis Simpson's pasture were moved about ten miles up the road to a two acre downtown sculpture park in Wilson, NC. Following their restoration and repainting, they became the centerpiece for an arts and cultural district, workforce training for mechanics and conservators, and educational programs exploring the intersections of art, science, and sustainability. Simpson was very involved in this project until his death in 2013. The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Industrial Artisan District are part of North Carolina's larger plans for fostering arts-driven economic development.
Update, 2016: Organizers of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park approached Kohler Foundation about partnering to complete the enormous project to conserve the whirligigs. Ownership of 31 large-scale whirligigs and about 50 smaller works transferred to Kohler Foundation to complete the restoration project. Kohler Foundation continued to use the existing highly skilled staff of conservation technicians, craftsmen, and artists, but took over the funding and management of the project. Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs were installed in downtown Wilson, North Carolina where they contribute to the downtown revitalization currently taking place. The whirligigs have been gifted to the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum.
Update, 2020: A report measuring the economic impact of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park on the town of Wilson, North Carolina was released June 2020. The report can be viewed here.
SPACES Archives Holdings
1 envelope: images
Map & Site Information
301 Goldsboro Street S.
Wilson, NC, 27893 us
Latitude/Longitude: 35.723032 / -77.9128557
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