Southern Living salutes the keepers of our culture. After reviewing hundreds of nominations with our panel of distinguished jurors, we’ve chosen honorees, ages 20 to 93, whose stories inspire us and reflect the rich diversity of the Southern spirit. They are otherwise ordinary folks who have done extraordinary things. They are the 2012 Southern Living Heroes of the New South.
Vollis Simpson, age 93
Vollis, a World War II veteran and former farmer and machinist, has been lauded by art critics worldwide; his work has been chosen as the symbol of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. As a folk art pioneer, he’s transformed the ordinary machines of Southern life into extraordinary works of art, recognized by T
he New York Times and documented by PBS. “I don’t know if I’m an artist,” says Vollis. “I just know I wake up every day and have to do something with my hands.”
Heroes juror Gerri Combs says, “Vollis embodies the creative spirit of our region. He’s someone who doesn’t see himself as an artist but is driven to create and share creations made from what others might call junk.”
People travel from all over the world to see his sculptures, all built less than a mile from the farm on which he was born. And he’s given his blessing for 32 of his works to be restored and preserved. The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park will open in downtown Wilson early next year, ensuring that Vollis’ artwork, grounded in the rural tradition in which he was raised, lives on for generations to come.
Vollis Simpson started making his whimsical, moveable art structures and erecting them in the early 1980's. The first of his movable art were placed on his farm just off of Wiggins Mill Road in Lucama, NC. He has been featured in numerous magazines, books, newspapers and publications. His work has been featured all over the world from California, Canada, Switzerland, and London, England. In 1997, the Wilson Visitors Bureau started promoting this attraction as the "Whirligigs".
The first publication that wrote about Vollis Simpson was November, 1986 in U.S. News & World Report. Time Magazine wrote and article August 7, 1989 and in the May/June, 1998 issue of Modern Maturity. December 21, 1998 People Magazine had a feature story of his work. Our State Magazine has featured him in both the February, 1999 & August, 2003. In September, 2003, Southern Living wrote an article about Vollis and his work. There have been several books giving recognition to him: Signs & Wonders, Raw Vision, Fantasy World, Raw Creations,Eldersence and many more.
Did you know there was a restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland that featured a "Whirligig" pie in his honor?
There are four sculptures permanently erected in Atlanta at the intersection of Courtland Avenue and McGill Street. These sculptures were used at the 1996 Olympic Games. The North Carolina Museum of Art has a 50 foot sculpture & downtown Raleigh, two blocks from the Exploris, are several sculptures. His work can be seen at the Inner Harbor at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. The Fearrington Village in Pittsboro, NC has several "Whirligigs" on their property and have a shop called "Whirligigs Kids". There is a "Whirligig" at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly, NC and at the Wilson Rose Garden. Downtown Wilson will soon have a total of twelve "Whirligigs".
We congratulate Vollis Simpson for his hard work, dedication and his creativity!