Whirligig Project

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Project

Funding Received: 2011
Wilson, NC
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
November 15, 2011

Vollis Simpson never calls himself an artist, but the thousands of people who visit his astounding whirligig field in Wilson County, North Carolina, certainly do. Towering fifty feet or more above ground, and extending nearly as far outwards into space, the more than thirty monumental whirligigs erected in his yard demonstrate the power of individual vision coupled with a traditional art form, all supported by the skill and savvy of a true bricoleur. These compelling, nationally recognized assemblages have found their way from a crossroads in rural North Carolina to international art collections and even into a popular window installation at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman department store, testifying to their wide-ranging appeal and their abiding influence on his peers as well as at least two younger generations of artists and engineers.

Vollis Simpson’s creations have contributed to his region’s traditional culture and sense of place. Tourists visiting his installations at home and in the future Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, to be located downtown Wilson, represent a boon to a local economy struggling from the loss of tobacco revenue. This creative placemaking project is well underway, with the local community working on park design, educational programming and partnerships, repair, conservation and documentation of the whirligigs, and fundraising. Clearly a pioneer in the artistic reuse of everyday objects, Simpson, now 92, finds himself on the cutting edge of emerging artistic trends, a position shared by other traditional and vernacular artists who have conserved materials, championed “low-tech” solutions, and never wavered from their focus on and responsibility to local culture. Simpson’s unique and breath-taking kinetic sculptures, which have captured the admiration of people throughout the nation and the world, are being giving a second life through the efforts of this project.