A Writer's Playground

Monthly Activities for Kids by Linda Martin Andersen

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Whirligigs in the Wind

Posted by lindamartinandersen on June 3, 2013

“Whirligigs in the Wind” by Linda Martin Andersen 

.A Writer's Playground Fotosearch_u17996074Thanks for visiting “A Writer’s Playground”–A place to find wordplay, writing, and monthly calendar activities for kids and those young at heart.

“A Writer’s Playground” would like to spotlight the whirligigs of Vollis Simpson, a celebrated whirligig artist, who recently died at age 94.   Last month, thanks to spectacular creations by this artist, whirligigs were named the official folk art of North Carolina.

Although Vollis Simpson of Lucama, North Carolina never received formal art training, he created whirligigs that caught the attention of museums in Baltimore, New York, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and people all around the world. Wilson County will open the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in November 2013 in Wilson, North Carolina.  Restored whirligigs by Simpson will be on display. 

How did Simpson get started building whirligigs?

When  Simpson first began building whirligigs, he built one to power a washing machine and years later he designed one to power a heating system.  Once he retired, he created whirligigs for pleasure–inspired by his interests and memories.  For example, some whirligigs remind viewers of World War II and airplanes.  Fortunately Simpson’s influence will live on thanks to folklorist Jefferson Currie who has spent several years recording stories about Simpson’s life and art. 

Interesting trivia about the whirligigs: 

Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs are made of air conditioning parts, motor fans, cotton spindles.  Some are 50 feet tall and weigh up to 3 tons.  Many have 100s of moving parts.  Tiny pieces of reflector material enhance the whirligigs when lights shine on them.

What do we know about Vollis Simpson’s life? 

Vollis Simpson worked several jobs in his life.  He farmed, moved houses, operated a machine shop, and after retiring, he turned his business location into a whirligig shop.  Some thought Vollis Simpson was crazy to build such big whirligigs.  What do you think?  Please leave a comment below.

Check these sites for more information:







Please leave a comment about a favorite whirligig. 

Name something creative you have made.  Did anyone ever call you crazy for spending time making it?  How did you handle that?  What if Vollis Simpson had quit when he was first told he was crazy? 

Thank you for visiting “A Writer’s Playground.” Please come again soon.  Bring a friend. 

Copyright © 2013 Linda Martin Andersen

18 Responses to “Whirligigs in the Wind”

  1. I keep dreaming of making fun and funky things in my backyard but nothing like these. This is the sort of place you want to take your grandchildren. Maybe someday…

    I had to check out Rare Visions and Roadside Attractions, a PBS show I sometimes watch, to see if they’d visited Vollis and sure enough! http://rarevisionsroadtrip.com/flash/flash.html

  2. Hi Joyce,
    You’re right. I found Vollis Simpson’s work at the PBS link you provided. I wish I could have met this artist. What talent and yet he was so down to earth. He was humble and took time to sit and talk with visitors. Wilson isn’t so far away. Plan to do it after the park opens in November of this year. Glad this post may have inspired you to try something in your backyard sometime soon. Call me when it’s done! 😉

  3. Joan Y. Edwards said

    Dear Linda,
    What fun whirligigs! I’ve seen these fun contraptions in many different places. Glad that Whirligigs are North Carolina’s official folk art. Hip Hip Hooray for silly things! They help you live a long time. Vollis Simpson proved that by living to be 94.

    Celebrate you and your love of fun
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

    • Hi Joan,
      Mr. Simpson did live a long life. Probably because he was doing something he loved. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing the whirligigs. Weren’t they fun?

      Thanks for bringing fun into my life in many different ways.

  4. Hi Linda,

    This is the sort of trivia that will show up in somebody’s book someday, thanks to you for bringing this fascinating man and his craft to our attention!

    • Linda,
      I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Mr. Simpson and his craft. I enjoyed researching the man and his craft.

      Trivia about whirligigs would make a fun nonfiction book–like a coffee table book for kids. Or it could be used as a writing prompt for fiction writers. Seems we’re always thinking like writers.

      Thanks for dropping in and commenting.

  5. Who knew that NC even had an official folk art? Fascinating!

  6. I love whirligigs and have seen such beautiful and whimsical ones! Thank you for this post, Linda….

    • Maureen,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the whirligig post. I want to get to Wilson to check out the park someday. What a great art–beautiful and whimsical. Hard to beat!

      Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

  7. June said

    Hi Linda,

    Thank you I didn’t know about whirliggis until today. Thanks for sharing this story.

  8. Juliana Jones said

    I love folk art and will keep an eye out for whirligigs now, thanks to you, Linda. One thing though, you might want to define them for a non-country audience. Kids growing up in cities might not have a clue what they are and it is hard to tell from the pics how big they are…

    • Juliana,
      I love your eye for details. I will consider adding to this or perhaps do a follow-up post. Thanks for suggesting ways to make viewing this more complete.

      Thanks also for stopping in and leaving a comment.

  9. Hi Linda,
    You never cease to amaze me. You come up with such interesting information. 🙂
    I’ve always loved the whirl-a-wig. I even painted one on a baby card. I remember blowing them so hard (when there was no wind) I felt dizzy. LOL

  10. […] Whirligigs in the Wind […]

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