Vollis Simpson

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Vollis Simpson (1919 – 31 May 2013)[1] was an American "outsider" artist known for large kinetic sculptures known as "whirligigs" made from salvaged metal. He lived and worked in Lucama, North Carolina.

Vollis Simpson, April 19, 2011

Early life[edit]

Vollis Simpson was born in 1919 to a Oscar and Emma Simpson of Spring Hill Township in Wilson County, North Carolina. According to his wife, Jean Simpson, he was 8th out of 12 children.[2]

The 1940 US Census shows Simpson living at home with his parents, two sisters (Hazell, four years older, Eldnir, five years younger), and a younger brother Darvell. His occupation is listed as "farming".[3]

Simpson served in the US Army Air Corps during the Second World War in the Pacific Theatre.[1] He demonstrated his intuitive engineering skills while stationed on Saipan in the Northern Marianas Islands, where he constructed a windmill out of parts from a junk B-29 Superfortress bomber to power a washing machine for his company.[4][5] After the war, he founded a house-moving operation with his brothers to supplement the income from the family farm. He designed and built much of the heavy equipment they used to move houses, created a first of it's kind crop sprayer [6]and ran a machine shop as well.

Art career[edit]

Simpson built a number of large whirligigs on his land in Lucama surrounding a pond across from his workshop. This was referred to by locals as "Acid Park" because of how the sculptures would reflect car headlights when people came out after dark.[7][8]

Simpson was commissioned to create a whirligig for the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. The 55-foot-high whirligig was installed at the opening of the museum in November, 1995.[9][4]

Simpson was commissioned to create whirligigs for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Four of his works were installed at the Olympic's Folk Art Park and remained there on permanent display.[10][11]


The North Carolina House and Senate recognized Simpson's contributions and in June 2013 designated whirligigs as the official folk art of North Carolina.[12][13][14]

The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park has been created in nearby Wilson, NC to document, conserve, and display the large sculptures that were present on Simpson's land in Lucama.[15] The park had its grand opening on November 2, 2017.[16]

In 2004 the city of Wilson, North Carolina held its first annual Wilson Whirligig Festival.[17] The festival was renamed in 2016 to the North Carolina Whirligig Festival,[18] and is usually held the first full weekend of November.[19]


"[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..."[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Yardley, William (June 5, 2013). "Vollis Simpson, Visionary Artist of the Junkyard, Dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  2. ^ Jean Simpson
  3. ^ https://1940census.archives.gov/search/?search.census_year=1940&search.city=&search.county=Wilson&search.page=2&search.result_type=image&search.state=NC&search.street=#filename=m-t0627-02989-00456.tif&name=98-17&type=image&state=NC&index=33&pages=42&bm_all_text=Bookmark 1940 US Census Record
  4. ^ a b Shane, Scott (April 5, 2010). "Junkyard Poet of Whirligigs and Windmills". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  5. ^ "Vollis Simpson | South Writ Large". southwritlarge.com. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  6. ^ Jean Simpson
  7. ^ "Whirligig Park (Formerly Acid Park)". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  8. ^ Vitiello, Chris (June 5, 2013). "The extraordinary legacy of whirligig creator Vollis Simpson". Indy Week. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  9. ^ Cindy Kelly (3 May 2011). Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore: A Historical Guide to Public Art in the Monumental City. JHU Press. pp. 129–. ISBN 978-0-8018-9722-1.
  10. ^ "Olympic Notebook: Whirligigs headed for Atlanta". Battle Creek Enquirer. Battle Creek, Michigan,USA. Associated Press. June 19, 1996. p. 4B. Retrieved October 30, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. Free to read
  11. ^ "The Atlanta Public Arts Legacy Fund: Folk Art Park". www.atlantapublicart.com. APAL Fund in care of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  12. ^ http://www.wilsontimes.com/News/Feature/Story/22211292---N-C--House-honors-Vollis-Simpson N.C. Legislature designates whirligigs as official folk art of North Carolina[dead link]
  13. ^ "North Carolina State Folk Art: Whirligigs,". www.netstate.com. NSTATE. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  14. ^ "General Assembly honors Simpson, designates new state icons". Newslink. North Carolina Department of Commerce. June 26, 2013. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  15. ^ "Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park: The Story". The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Project. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  16. ^ Beth Velliquette, Beth (October 29, 2017). "Art in motion: Wilson prepares to open whirligig park". Reflector.com. Greenville, North Carolin, USA: Cooke Communications. Retrieved October 29, 2017.
  17. ^ "Profile of the City" (PDF). www.wilsonnc.org. Retrieved October 29, 2017.
  18. ^ "Whirligig Festival goes statewide". The Wilson Times. Wilson, North Carolina, USA: Morgan Dickerman. August 7, 2016. Retrieved October 29, 2017.
  19. ^ "North Carolina Whirligig Festival". www.wilsonnc.org. City of Wilson. Retrieved October 29, 2017.

General References[edit]

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