Travel: Vollis SimpsonWhirligig Park

I’ve got a soft spot for underdogs and the offbeat so when my eye spied a billboard on interstate 95 for a “whirligig park,” it became a stop on our return trip home from Florida. Turns out the park had recently opened in November and was dedicated to the works of one man, Vollis Simpson. It also turns out that I had seen his work before, at the mind-blowing American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, my very favorite art museum which is dedicated to “outsider art,” created by self-trained artists.

A New Art Park

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, North Carolina transports you the way only great art can. When I saw the billboard zipping by me, I thought it’d most likely be a whimsical collection that would look at home on a retro mini golf course or a Florida retiree’s lawn. Boy, was I wrong. These whirligigs are made of metal, tower above you, and are enormous. Standing among them, you feel dwarfed in the best possible way and filled with intense wonder.

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Wilson
Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs fill you with whimsy and wonder.

Kinetic Art

Despite the bitter cold, we traipsed around the park, reading its signage and enjoying the whirligig views from all angles. We also enjoyed squinting up at the whirligigs in the morning sun to see what materials went into each one’s creation. According to the Park website, “The Whirligigs incorporate 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 many more such materials form the support and moving parts.” And since they are kinetic sculptures, they also produce rattles, clicks, and creakings, adding to their presence. Even the shadows beneath dance across the ground as the wind moves the whirligigs. This art is alive. Click my video below to get a sense of its presence.

Wilson, NC

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Wilson
The whirligigs bring energy to a sleepy downtown.

From a quick drive around, it looks like the city of  Wilson is working on revitalizing its downtown and Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park is the catalyst. Empty spaces surrounding the park are in the process of being renovated and repurposed, including a Vollis Simpson Museum. Since it was an early Sunday morning, nothing was open during our visit but 217 Brew Works and Tig’s Courtyard look like fun spaces for the community.

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Wilson
These kinetic sculptures creak, spin, and flap in the air above you.

I’m so glad I noticed that billboard on I-95, otherwise we would have missed out on this amazing park. If we ever are back in the area, we will definitely visit Wilson and the whirligigs again.

How do you feel about “outsider art”? Please share in the comments. Thanks!

Want more offbeat fun on your travels? Check out Travel: Funky Florida.

Want to learn more about outsider art? Click here to purchase Raw Creation: Outsider Art & Beyond. A portion of your purchase will help maintain my blog. Thank you for your support!


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