Creative Placemaking Project Culminates in Whirligig Park

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Features 30 Whimsical & Massive Works in downtown Wilson

Raleigh, N.C. (October 17, 2017) — A new destination park in historic downtown Wilson filled with kinetic, colorful whirligigs created by North Carolina’s own world-renowned folk artist Vollis Simpson will be officially dedicated and opened on Thursday, Nov. 2.

The two-acre park, located at 301 Goldsboro Street South, is an arts-driven economic development project that has already spurred $25 million in private investment in Wilson's historic downtown.

The dedication event begins at 4 p.m. with an official ribbon cutting and comments by project partners and local and state dignitaries including Susi H. Hamilton, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; Wayne Martin, Executive Director of the North Carolina Arts Council; Wilson Mayor Brice Rose; and Henry Walston, Chair of the Whirligig Park & Museum Board.

Festivities include live music from Fireside Collective, family activities, food trucks and a special lighting of the whirligigs as dusk falls. Folks are encouraged to bring blankets or chairs to enjoy the amphitheater. The free, public event is from 4 to 10 p.m.

The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum will feature 30 large-scale whirligigs created from recycled and salvaged parts. These whimsical sculptures have become part of the cultural identity of the region.

"It has been a privilege for the North Carolina Arts Council to partner with the City of Wilson, local community leaders and generous funders to preserve the work of artist Vollis Simpson and utilize his legacy to benefit Wilson and eastern North Carolina" said Wayne Martin, Executive Director of the North Carolina Arts Council. "As the pilot community for the Arts Council's SmART Initiative program, Wilson has become a national model for how to use the arts to revitalize downtowns, create jobs and increase tourism."

Simpson is one of North Carolina’s most famous self-taught artists. His work is on permanent display in museums in Baltimore, Atlanta, Raleigh and Albuquerque, and is represented in private folk art collections throughout the United States and abroad. He was a World War II veteran who spent the first part of his career as a farm equipment repairman, and the next 30 years designing, constructing, painting and maintaining large and small whirligigs and wind-machine he displayed on his family farm in Lucama. Visitors traveled from around the world to experience the magical place that Vollis created.

The Arts Council’s interest in helping preserve Simpson’s work started in 2007 with an initial conversation between Vollis Simpson and Martin. At the time, Martin was working with rural communities to use rich traditions such as music and craft as sustainable economic development tools, especially for tourism.

Martin, who initiated the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina and the Cherokee Heritage Trails, knew that the whirligigs had become part of Wilson’s cultural identity and that preserving the works would be an important tribute to Vollis’ engineering feats and artistry, as well as an engine for tourism development.

“During that first visit Mr. Simpson conveyed that he wasn’t particularly interested in folks coming and going on his property to help him with restoration and repairs of the whirligigs,” Martin recalls. “But after a while, community advocates like Henry Walston, Lisa Anderson and Burk Uzzle convinced him that his work should be preserved for future generations.”

Three years later the North Carolina Arts Council and the City of Wilson announced the creation of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, and the whirligigs started to be relocated to the Conservation Headquarters, where Simpson assisted and advised the conservation teams prior to his death in 2013. The collection is now owned by the City of Wilson.

Throughout the process the N.C. Arts Council has provided technical assistance through its staff and awarded several grants to support the development of the park.

“The grassroots effort in Wilson is the perfect example of how communities can use local cultural assets as a place-based strategy to replace the loss of jobs in agriculture or manufacturing,” Martin said. “With the opening of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson has become a more prosperous community and the state as a whole can showcase a distinctive artistic tradition that will attract national and international visitors.”

The park, designed by the award-winning landscape firm Surface678, is already anchored by Whirligig Station, an adaptive reuse of the historic Hi-Dollar tobacco warehouse into a microbrewery and luxury apartments.

“The dedication of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park is a tribute to the amazing group of supporters who have spent the last seven years making the vision for the park a reality,” said Henry Walston, chair of the all-volunteer Whirligig Park & Museum board. “We will celebrate how with our collaborations we have created a truly unique and exciting park for citizens and visitors to North Carolina.”

The N.C. Arts Council toured the park in August with Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Here’s a recap of her visit:

In the following video clip Henry Walston, Chair of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum, discussed the economic impact of the park in Wilson:

For more information about the park visit:

To learn about the SmART Initiative visit:


About the North Carolina Arts Council

The North Carolina Arts Council builds on our state’s longstanding love of the arts, leading the way to a more vibrant future. The Arts Council is an economic catalyst, fueling a thriving nonprofit creative sector that generates $2.12 billion in total annual economic activity. The Arts Council is also a cultural pathfinder, sustaining diverse arts expression and traditions and investing in new innovative approaches to art-making. The North Carolina Arts Council has also proven to be a champion for youth by cultivating tomorrow’s creative citizens through arts education.

About Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum

The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum is a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization created to design, build and program a unique new park in Historic Downtown Wilson to serve as an arts-driven economic development engine. The massive, wind-driven kinetic sculptures designed and built by the renowned artist Vollis Simpson are being renovated and conserved to serve as the centerpiece of the new park. The non-profit will retain long-term maintenance responsibilities of the artwork collection.