Huge kinetic “Whirlygig” sculptures are assemblages of unlikely materials

Vollis Simpson created outdoor kinetic sculptures for 30 years prior to his death in 2013. Though he never called himself an artist, his steel sculptures are in museum collections such as Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and the Cameron Museum of Art in Wilmington, NC. In Wilson County, NC, where Simpson lived all his life, a field of more than 30 “whirlygigs” mark the landscape with their movements, reaching heights of 50 feet or more.

Simpson retired at age 65 following a career in machinery and construction. He then began applying his skills to constructing windmill-like structures by assembling found objects, agricultural equipment, and industrial supplies. One of the elements that he often included were re-purposed highway signs. Upon adding small sign pieces to the sculptures, the reflected light added nighttime interest to his moving inventions.

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