Vollis Simpson (1919 – 2013)
Art Type or Medium: Environment/Installation
Status: relocated and restored
Viewable: a few pieces remain in their original location
Secular or Religious: Secular
Vollis Simpson’s delicate balance of wind, gravity, monumentally, and whimsy was hidden away deep in the North Carolina countryside, but an Emerald City explosion would begin just as you approached that last turn in Wiggins Mill Road – and a sliver of sparkling fantasy began to show through. The full birds-flying, axles-squeaking, loggers-sawing, fans-whirring, guitarists-strumming, dials-turning ‘what just happened here’ effect gave his “Whirligig Farm” its “Acid Park” nickname.
Mr. Simpson could typically be found across the road welding and grinding away in front of his former repair shop. Looking like central casting for what an artist doesn’t look like, his old-fashioned country gentleman’s under-emotive demeanor made him seem the most unlikely maker of such exuberant “windmills,” as he called them.
As dusk set in, passing headlights would begin to set off bursts of reflector fireworks throughout his cacophonous carnival of wind-blown activity.
Mr. Simpson sheltered and fed stray animals, and he would shout out warnings to get away from the road – as cars driven by speeders “always talking on their damn cell phones” raced by. I first met Mr. Simpson in 2007 and returned bearing prints about once a year. I was very pleased that he would remember me in the daily stream of visitors, and eventually he invited me to visit the work area around his nearby home and allowed me to pursue nighttime “paint-with-light” photography: he would unlock the gate before leaving his workshop for the day.
A rigger and metal worker by profession (with, one assumes, a long-hidden flair for the extraordinary spectacle), Mr. Simpson’s “Whirligig Farm” (now mostly re-located and restored) was one of America’s great art environments – a mind-blowing affirmation of the creative spirit.