Approximately 30 windmill-like sculptures which shine and reflect in the sun and whirl and spin in the wind, Simpson’s whirligigs are made from recycled machine parts, then painted and covered with thousands of small reflectors. Many stand up to 50 feet tall.
Simpson began work on Windmill Farm in 1985, after retiring from a machine repair business he ran with friends. The “park” is Simpson’s farm, today filled with over 30 whirligigs of Simpson’s design and construction.
“If you don’t try something,
you don’t learn anything.”
For Vollis Simpson, whirligigs had long been a practical solution to everyday problems. Serving in Saipan in the Mariana Islands during World War II, Simpson built a whirligig to power a washing machine. Years later, back at home, he looked to whirligigs to power a heating system for his house. It was not until 1985 that Simpson began to appreciate whirligigs for their less-than utilitarian qualities. He began making whirligigs on his farm from cast-off machine parts simply to see how they would move in the wind.
Simpson had had a lot of experience in getting things to work. He had started a machine repair shop with some buddies in the early 1950s. Together, they fixed farm and tobacco machinery, often building their own parts. From machines, they moved to houses, disassembling and loading the structures on trucks before transporting them to a new location where the houses were reassembled. In 1985, his partners retired and Simpson found himself with a lot of free time and tons of miscellaneous machine parts. “I had to find something that was better than watching television,” he remembers. So, Simpson began to transform his North Carolina farm into an Arcadia of whimsical windmills.
Sources of Power, Pieces of Art
The novelty of Simpson’s whirligigs soon caught national attention. The High Museum of Art in Atlanta accepted Simpson’s fanciful and functional windmills into their collection in 1987. A decade later, whirligigs were sought for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Simpson made four sculptures–a man sawing, a man on a unicycle, a water pumper and a duck–all of which were placed throughout the city’s gleaming downtown. People soon wanted whirligigs to call their own. To meet the need, Simpson began making personal models between one and five feet high, which he sold for $200 to $1000.
Simpson’s whirligigs can be seen today in all their spinning, reflecting, and shining glory at Simpson’s farm in Lucama, North Carolina. Made from machine parts, kitchen appliances, bicycle wheels, street signs and highway reflectors, many of Simpson’s moveable structures stand up to fifty feet high. At a minimum, whirligigs must spin, move and make noise when caught by the wind. These contraptions are enjoyed by those who understand their mechanical mastery.
Simpson’s whirligigs are also a big favorite with local schoolchildren. “They bring their little pads and their little notebooks and their little pencils, and I let them sit out there and draw. And I'll go get them some candy. [When] I know they're coming I'll send my wife to Wal-Mart and get a sack full of blow gum candy and pass them all out… [From time to time the schools] bring a busload down here and stay two or three hours. And sometimes they'll bring their lunch and I'll let them have a little picnic out there. It's fun to see them enjoy themselves.”
From Skepticism to Admiration
Simpson’s project was initially met with skepticism. “Well everybody made fun of me–[they] thought I was crazy, I reckon, because I started putting them out there in the pasture, out in the front yard.” People began stopping by just to see what Simpson would put up next. With time, however, people have come to admire Simpson’s special salvage. “Some people, like my wife, thought that I was crazy at first. But now she’s pretty happy. Folks can always change their mind, you know.”
Turning “Junk” into Wonder
Many make the drive to Lucama to visit the whirligigs of Simpson’s design. His wind-propelled creations can also be seen elsewhere. Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, is a big fan of Simpson’s work. “He takes junk and turns it into wonder,” she says. Four stories of Simpson’s skill and artistry can be seen at the entrance of this waterfront museum in Baltimore. The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta also have some of Simpson’s handiwork. Windmill Farm is located in Lucama, North Carolina, on Wiggins Mill Road.
Vollis Simpson continues work on Windmill Farm, building his beloved whirligigs at the site. There are no official visiting hours and the property is private. However, Simpson’s towering windmills can be seen - and heard - from the road.
Windmill Farm is located three miles from Lucama. Take US 301 South, cross the Contentnea Creek Bridge, and turn right on Wiggins Mill Road.
“[I’ve been a] farmhouse mover, electric welder, carpenter, the list goes on. If you don't try something, you don't learn anything. Common sense. You come across a lot of these people that know so damn much, sometimes you find out they're dumber than I am...”
Off the Map- A look into backyard paradises created by visionary artists around the world