After a relaxing time at the Wilson Public Rose Garden yesterday morning, I set out to learn about the famous whirligigs of Vollis Simpson. Little did I know that it was going to be quite an adventure. I started out by programing Jack-in-the-box to take me to Wiggins Mill Road in Lucama, NC. I was looking for Simpson’s farm where he constructed and erected these giant whirligigs.
Since all I had was the name of the road, I drove it from one end towards the other looking for the farm. Because of their size, it was obvious when to stop. There were lots of no trespassing signs, so I just parked on the side of the road and was immediately greeted by this beautiful black cat. It was very friendly and really impeded my walking as it wove it’s way in and out between my feet.
The whirligigs really are monstrous in size! I had to walk along the road, and the vines and shrubs had grown well over my head. I could really only get a look at the tops of these structures.
Vollis Simpson started building these after his retirement in 1985. He wanted to do further investigation of his windmill experiments that he had done on Saipan during WWII when he was stationed there with the Army Air Corps. While there, he designed and built a windmill to power a washing machine.
He’s now 93 years old, but still works in his shop daily on the farm by the field containing his creations. I was hoping he would be there when I was, as I had heard that he enjoyed talking to visitors. He wasn’t, so I didn’t get a chance to get close up with the whirligigs. He has had to lock the area off because of vandals. You can guess my reaction to that information. What are people thinking?
Finding his farm was only half of the adventure for the day. Afterwards I returned to a warehouse in Wilson where about 25 of his wind-powered structures are being dismantled, cleaned, repaired, and conserved to be exhibited in a special Whirligig Park that will be erected in the middle of Wilson.
As I entered the warehouse, this gentleman offered to give me a personal tour of the restoration work. He is a retired gentleman that works here three days a week, and it was more than evident that he loves his work. To say that he is a wealth of knowledge about each individual whirligig and about Simpson himself is an understatement.
Some of these sculptures are being restored while others are being reproduced so the originals can be exhibited as is in a planned museum of folk art. Above is an example of a bicycle rider that will be reproduced to form part of a much larger structure. The original will go to the museum. Exact patterns are made from the original so that Vollis’ original folk talent is preserved.
For parts, Simpson recycled and repurposed just about anything he could get his hands on from metal wine glasses to other industrial surplus. Just about every part of every sculpture moves with the slightest breeze. The complexity of his designs is just mind boggling.
Can you see how some of these parts look lit up? Well that’s because almost every part of each whirligig was covered with painstakingly attached small segments of old reflective road signs. I just can’t imagine the time involved in cutting each of those reflectors into pieces as small as two inches and attaching them to just about every square inch of the whirligigs. Just look carefully at that star that the guide is steadying for me about four pictures up. The reflective effect was only appreciated by folks driving by the farm at night with the car headlights on. It went from a dark night to something akin to Riverview Amusement Park in Chicago in an instant for those folks. Truly amazing.
The whirligigs of Vollis Simpson will surely be the highlight for me of my time in Wilson, NC. I really feel lucky to have experienced both the farm and the tour of the restoration warehouse. If you can get here anytime in the next year, I would suggest you visit both while they’re still available. Many of the whirligigs that I saw in their original state on the farm will be removed in the next year or so. And at 93, who knows how long Vollis Simpson will still be with us.
Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later, Judy