In 2009 I learned about the fascinating folk artist Vollis Simpson and his gigantic whirligigs located in Lucama, North Carolina. I was driven to visit this amazing person and set about trying to call him. The Wilson Visitors Center was very helpful putting me in touch with Vollis. Since Vollis was about 90 years old at the time, I felt that it was critical not delay my trip to video tape and interview him. I spent about 9 hours with Vollis photographing him and learning a lot about his life growing up as a country boy in North Carolina.
I will say that I find biography fascinating and personal. The fact that Vollis was born in 1919 made his stories even more exciting from a historical perspective. He began his work life helping his father who ran a house moving business. At that time, their house moving was done with mules and carts! This makes the first whirligig built by Vollis particularly sweet in my opinion. The man and mule cart whirligig is featured in the video and stood near his workshop building at the Simpson Crossroads in Lucama, North Carolina. From 1941-1945 Vollis served in the Air Force on Saipan clearing out plane crash debris from a military landing strip. He explained to me that this military experience is where his first real tinkering and machine building began using recycled metal from planes. While living on the island, he devised and constructed a bobbing machine that used ocean water for washing all the men’s clothing.
The Simpson Crossroads is three roads that intersect and enclose a pasture area that was once filled with the giant whirligigs. The whole place was a bit eerie. It felt like an old forgotten amusement park with brightly colored Ferris wheel rides of all shapes, sizes, and configurations. The wind-driven sculptures were constructed from recycled metal and street sign reflectors. Vollis did an incredible job keeping the kudzu at bay! I am glad that I made this trip and filmed Vollis at work and strolling in his intact whirligig park. I recently learned that the sculptures have been removed from the whirligig pasture for restoration and relocation to the city of Wilson, North Carolina. The funniest thing Vollis ever told me was a story about some guy asking him whether he came down to watch his whirligigs during a hurricane. Vollis said heck no are you crazy!