Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Micro Adventure

Just a few miles off of I-95 and well within about an hours drive of near 2 million people lies an art treasure for the senses. The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in the unassuming town of Wilson, North Carolina, is home to the art of an unassuming man who had a vision of extraordinary proportions.

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Pulling up to the defacto city center in Wilson is magical in and of itself.  Thirty whirling, swirling giant confections float around the 2-acre Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in fantastical fashion.  Bright colored reflectors, giant fan blades, larger than life figures, creatures and magical creations from the mind of Vollis Simpson – all rescued from the family farm he called home since 1919.  

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park multi-colored entrance sign

Folk Artist Vollis Simpson

Simpson – one of twelve children – had an odd series of jobs which enabled him to collect the materials needed to envision and engineer such enchanting 'windmills' as he preferred to call them. Farm machinery repair and a part time job as a house mover provided him the necessary construction and engineering skills. Reclaimed parts such as signage, pipes, fans, mirrors, aluminum sheeting, and industrial mixers provided him with the canvas. In 2013, North Carolina's General Assembly recognized Simpson's whirligigs as the official State Folk Art of North Carolina.

Created on the nights and weekends over the course of 10 years, initially, Simpson’s creations resided on his farmland – which affectionately became known by locals as “Acid Park” – due to the effect of car lights reflecting off the spinning road reflector boxes on the windmills at night.  Declining health made upkeep of the giant art difficult for the aging artist – they continually need to be greased and repainted due to weather – rain, sun, and hurricanes.

Looking up at whlrligig with reflector boxes in the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson, North Carolina

Two citizens recognized how valuable the art was to the community and rallied to save the towering kinetic whirligigs of Vollis Simpson from decay. Simpson died at the age of 94 in 2013 but not before the city of Wilson announced their plans to rescue, lovingly restore, and raise the wondrous art in a park dedicated to his work -Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park- much to his delight.

Additionally his work is featured at the North Carolina Museum of Art, at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and Baltimore’s Museum of American Visionary Art.  The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park also serves as an outdoor community space for concert series, movies, farmers market, and festivals opened in 2017 and hosts an annual North Carolina Whirligig Festival the first weekend in November.

Whirligig with spinning fans in Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson, North Carolina

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson, North Carolina

Where the imagination came from to to envision the spellbinding art is anyones guess.  Some of the finished pieces abstractly represent his time in service to his country in WWII.  Others his life on the farm.  Study them close enough and you can start picking out road signs, farm implements, industrial tubing and a whole matter of miscellany that only the mind of a master craftsman could dream of putting together.  No matter how you take it in you'll not leave the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park disappointed.

Two girls sitting in Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson, North Carolina

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