Vollis Simpson has died at age 94 in his home in Lucama, North Carolina. The self-taught whirligig artist had long been famous for his wind-powered kinetic sculptures often made from recycled parts.
The pieces sang a creaky, eerie song in the wind. Some of them reached as high as 50 feet into the air.
For years, Simpson built and displayed the pieces on a piece of land in Lucama that some people called “Acid Park.” In 2012, Wilson, NC started the process of moving the pieces to a new property that will be called Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. It is currently scheduled to open in November.
The nickname for the Acid Park location came, as you have probably already guessed, from an urban legend about LSD, also popularly called acid. In a popular retelling of the myth, Simpson’s daughter took acid with her boyfriend and then died on prom night in a car accident. Somehow the boyfriend returned to give Vollis Simpson the story of their visions before he too passed — visions that the grief-stricken father then reproduced in whirligigs.
Folks, an urban legend is just that. A legend. Simpson reportedly said that local teens made up the story to explain the strange feelings that overcame anyone who entered the mysterious park of creaking, singing whirligigs, especially on a dark night.
Please note that the still photo at the top of the page is meant to give you an example of what a whirligig actually is. However, that image is actually a piece called “The Twister Star Huge” by Lyman Whitaker. Simpson’s kinetic art stood out because he often used found materials like old motor fans.
Vollis Simpson’s pieces are best seen (and heard) in motion, and I have posted some videos to give you a feel for his work.
Here is a wonderful performance of the whirligigs at their former site in the so-called Acid Park in Lucama, shortly before the move to the new site in Wilson:
Here’s another film of Simpson’s whirligigs, originally filmed with a Super8 camera:
And here’s a photo posted by a Twitter fan:
— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) June 1, 2013
Although Vollis Simpson has died, his wonderful imagination will live on in the playful whirligigs created by this amazing folk artist.
[top photo of whirligig by RKlawton via Wikimedia Commons]