The Whirligig Park
One of the best aspects of living in NC's Triangle area is our close proximity to the mountains and the coast. Less than an hour East of Raleigh is one of the coolest parks in the nation. But don't take our word for it, the New York Times has given it a mention or two as well.
Vollis Simpson was one of those unique individuals who could look at a mundane item and see it's potential artistry. Born in 1919 in Spring Hill, NC the sculptor began engineering his innovations while he was stationed in the Pacific during World War II. In the 1970s while running a house-moving & farm-equipment repair operation, he began salvaging parts from scrap yards and "trash" heaps across eastern NC. It wasn't until his retirement that he began constructing what he called "windmills" from all those spare finds. Initially the sculptures were just for his own enjoyment, but the community took note, nicknaming the Simpson property adorned with a colorful menagerie of moving parts "acid park" because of the trippy way the metal would interact with oncoming driver's headlights.
Mr. Simpson's commissions include a whirligig for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and a creation for the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan and in June of 2013 the state of NC declared whirligigs the official folk art of the state, inspired by Vollis captivating work. As the artist's health declined in his later years, he began to worry what would happen to his art. Thankfully in 2010, the city of Wilson announced a plan to restore, maintain and promote the whirligigs within the community where they were created.
Designed by Durham's Surface 678 (you know them from their work at the NC Museum of Art), the park is now home to 30 works, scattered around a central viewing area, some standing over 50 feet high. With nearby breweries and some of the country's best bbq, the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park has become a model for placemaking in small cities.
So the next time you need something to do on a Saturday, make sure a sweet breeze is blowing and take a quick country drive to Wilson. Maybe pack a lunch and a picnic blanket because the best way to view these engaging metalworks is staring up while laying down - you'll be as captivated as we are for sure!
Want a preview of the whirligigs in action? Visit our *Instagram*.
"[I’ve been a] farmhouse mover, electric welder, carpenter, the list goes on. If you don't try something, you don't learn anything. Common sense. You come across a lot of these people that know so damn much, sometimes you find out they're dumber than I am..." - Vollis Simpson