On Sunday afternoon before visiting this park, my nephew Austin asked where we were going. When I told him the Whirligig Park, he said, “What’s a whirligig?”. I told him he’d have to wait to see and from his reaction when we arrived I gave the right answer. And you might be asking yourself the same question.
The whirligig was made famous by an NC artist Vollis Simpson who lived about 11 miles from Wilson. They are ‘windmill’ type structures made from highway and road signs, HVAC fans, bicycles, ceiling fans, mirrors, stovepipes, I-beams, pipe, textile mill rollers, ball bearings, aluminum sheeting, various woods, steel rods, rings, pans, milkshake mixers and much more that form the support and moving parts.
Mr. Simpson began making the whirligigs after his retirement at age 65 and made them until about six months before he died at 94. The original field of whirligigs was 11 miles outside Wilson and already attracted the attention of local people. After the rise of the Internet, visitors from out-of-state made their way to Vollis’ farm. Without any advertising, Simpson’s farm became one of Wilson County’s top tourism destinations.
To preserve the whirligigs and recharge its downtown, a partnership between the City of Wilson and the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum established The Whirligig Park with grants from ArtPlace America, the Kresge Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. With the grand opening held in November 2017, this 2-acre park in Wilson will feature 31 of Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs and will be the largest collection in the world and include some of Simpson’s most colossal and impressive sculptures. The park features specialty night lighting to illuminate the thousands of reflectors attached to the whirligigs, recreating the mystical experience at the original location when car headlights rounded the curve near the Simpson farm. In addition to the whirligigs, the Green, a central grass amphitheater includes a stage and hosts various concerts and performances. The Pavilion is a large, open-air shelter housing the farmers market, community events, and activities.
There is a lot to see in this park. After walking around, we sat down on a bench and watched the individual parts. It was encouraging to see all the ‘junk’ that was kept out of the landfill as the main focus of a park, capitalize on tourism and assist with a downtown rejuvenation. I know I’ll be back when I have time to sit and watch them spin, grab some dinner and then go back at night to see the special lighting.
You can learn more about Wilson’s Whirligig Park at https://www.wilsonwhirligigpark.org/