Give it a whirl

The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

by Samantha Gratton

photographs by Madeline Gray

Drive into Wilson to visit the Whirligig Park, and you won’t know where to look first – or, frankly, just what it is you’re seeing. After watching the giant pinwheels spin and turn with the breeze, you start to pick up on the details, realizing each individual fan, motor, and metal that makes up the whirligig. As it glints in the sun or reflects surrounding lights in the evening, this array of recycled materials exhibits the cluttered, fantastical chaos of a carnival. It also reveals the quiet beauty of a man’s life story.

North Carolina native and artist Vollis Simpson created dozens of intricate whirligigs before he died in 2013. Celebrated as the official folk art of the state, more than 30 whirligigs now dwell in the newly opened Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in historic downtown Wilson. Because Simpson’s materials were sourced locally, the park is both the work of a local artist on display and a piece of North Carolina history.