Vollis Simpson 1919 - 2013: An AppreciationLucama, North Carolina

Southeast Region

Southeast

In Memorium

Vollis Simpson (1919 – 2013)

Whirligig Farm

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; Lucama, NC 2011
Vollis Simpson (in front of workshop); Lucama, NC 2011
Work of Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2008
Work of Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2008

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.

Vollis Simpson Restoration Project; Wilson, NC 2017
Simpson Restoration Project (original & replacement guitar player); Wilson, NC 2017
Vollis SimpsonSite (guitar player background left); Lucama, NC 2011
Vollis Simpson Site (guitar player background left); Lucama, NC 2011
Work of Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2010
Work of Vollis Simpson (loggers-sawing); Lucama, NC 2010

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.

Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2011
Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2011
Vollis Simpson (closed) Studio Entrance; Lucama, NC 2010
Vollis Simpson Workshop Entrance (closed); Lucama, NC 2010

As dusk set in, passing headlights would begin to set off bursts of reflector fireworks throughout his cacophonous carnival of wind-blown activity.

Work of Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2010
Work of Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2010

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.

Work of Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2010
Work of Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2010
Vollis Simpson Site; Lucama, NC 2011
Vollis Simpson Site; Lucama, NC 2011

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.

Work of Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2010
Work of Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2010
Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2011
Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC 2011
Vollis Simpson Home Site; Lucama, NC 2009
Vollis Simpson Home Site; Lucama, NC 2009

 

The Wilson, NC Times obituary

The New York Times obituary

The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park restoration project

2010 New York Times article

See also: