Vollis Simpson

1919 - 2013

Burk Uzzle’s portrait of Vollis, taken in Vollis’ Willing Worker Road workshop

My essay “Vollis and His Fun Machine” appears in the recent NC Museum of Art book You Are the River: Literature inspired by the North Carolina Museum of Art. For the book, Helena Feder asked North Carolina writers to respond to an item of their choice from the museum’s collection, and I was delighted that mine, to write about Vollis’s “Wind Machine,” became part of the project. It spins 24/7 on the lawn at the museum in Raleigh. The essay was great fun to put together, mostly from a lot of other sources, especially those who had interviewed him. Unfortunately, the museum cut my sources (even though I had proofed them!), making it appear as though I had possibly conducted all the interviews that resulted in Vollis’ extended comments throughout the essay. Although I visited with him many times over the years, it seemed by the time I met him in the late 1980s there was already enough being written about him, and that, perhaps, he had had enough of that kind of attention and the kinds of folks it brought to his piece of Wilson County.
     Anyway, I couldn’t have written very much of this essay without all those sources, especially from back issues of the Wilson Daily Times, and I’m sorry these credits weren’t included in the book.

Sources used in writing “Vollis and His Fun Machine” 

Batts, Lisa Boykin. “Folk Artist Vollis Simpson Dies at 94.” Wilson Daily Times. 1 June 2013: 1, 3.

—. ”The Man behind the Whirligigs,” in Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.

Ball, Sandra, Sudie C. Forbes and Mark Hathaway. ”Hawley/Howell Cemetery.” 8 May 1993.  Survey of Graves in Wilson County. [Wilson, NC] n.d.: 149.

“Barnes-Simpson Marriage Announced.” Wilson Daily Times 23 Jan.1947: 5.

Calder, Alexander. qtd. in Rodman.

Currie, Jefferson and Vollis Simpson: “Portfolio: Vollis Simpson Whirligigs.” southwritlarge. n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2020.

Edgers, Geoff. “A Field Full of Windmills.” Raleigh News & Observer 2 Aug. 1998: 2D, 5D.

“Infant Simpson.” Wilson Daily Times 7 June 1958: 2.

Joel, Jane M. “Vollis Simpson: the Don Quixote of East-Central North Carolina.” Folk Art Society of America. folkart.org. n.d. [1996] Web. 14 Aug. 2020.

Kampe, Adam. “Vollis Simpson: Making Something out of Nothing.” NEA Arts Magazine. arts. gov. n.d. Web. 3 July 2020.

Kosterman, Carol. “Simpson is a Jack of All Trades.” Wilson Daily Times 14 July 1986: 10.

“L.C. Barnes Dies; Funeral Services Set.” Wilson Daily Times 22 Apr. 1971: 1.

“Lucama Man Dies of Heart Attack.” Wilson Daily Times 17 Mar. 1953: 1.

Manley, Roger. Email to author. 25 June 2020.

—.. Signs and Wonders: Outsider Art Inside North Carolina. Raleigh. NC Museum of Art, 1989.

Montgomery, Jackie. “Getting to Know Us.” Wilson Daily Times 18 Aug. 2000: C1.

Oppenheimer, Ann F. “She Supports Simpson.” Wilson Daily Times 11 July 1998: 10.

“Personals.” Wilson Daily Times 29 Aug. 1947: 5.

Rhem, Connie. “Artist Pleads, Term Suspended in Shooting.” Wilson Daily Times 29 June 1999: 1.

—. “Crowding Stalls Court.” Wilson Daily Times 29 June 1999: 1, 2.

—. “Vollis Simpson Case Put on Hold.” Wilson Daily Times 28 July 1998: 2.

“Rights to Protect Property at Issue.” Wilson Daily Times 27 June 1998: 16.

Rodman, Selden, ed. Conversations with Alexander Calder, New York: Devin-Adair, 1957: 136.

Shane, Scott. “Junkyard Poet of Whirligigs and Windmills.” New York Times 6 Apr. 2010: C1.

“Simpson Family.” History of Wilson County and Its Families. Wilson County’s 130th Anniversary Committee. Dallas, TX. Taylor Pub., 1985.

Simpson, Thea, “Local Welder’s Whirlygigs Gain Fame as ‘Outsider’ Art.” Wilson Daily Times 9 Oct. 1997: 57

—. “Lucama Man’s Windmills Turn Heads in Museums across Country.” Wilson Daily Times 23 Apr. 1998: 4C.

Smith, Michael. “Governor Sanford’s Tax Proposals Draw Strong Criticism in Wilson.” Wilson Daily Times 3 Mar. 1961: 1.

“S. Sgt. Vallis [sic] Simpson.” Wilson County Veterans. [Wilson, NC], n.d.: 272.

Stair, Margaret J. “Artist’s Supporters Back Property Rights.” Wilson Daily Times 26 Sept. 1998: 1.

Tarleton, Hal. “Windmill Builder Featured in Time.” Wilson Daily Times 9 Aug. 1989: 1, 3.

“36 Tar Heels Help Build Saipan Base, Sgt. Vollis Simpson Commended.” Wilson Daily Times 3 Feb. 1945: 1.

Vitiello, Chris. “The Extraordinary Legacy of Vollis Simpson.” indyweek.com. 5 June 2013. Web. 17 Aug. 2020.

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park: A Guide for Explorers. Wilson Daily Times n.d. [2017]

Waggoner, Martha. “Vollis Simpson.” Associated Press. tenneseean.com. 1 June 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2020.

Wilkerson, Heather. “People Features Folk Artist.” Wilson Daily Times 16 Dec. 1998: 1.

Wooten, Eddie. “Simpson’s Work Blows in the Wind.” Wilson Daily Times 10 Dec. 1984: 3.

Yardley, William. “Vollis Simpson, Visionary Artist of the Junkyard, Dies at 94.” nytimes.com. 5 June 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2020.

Also a survey of news and social notes from the Wilson Daily Times, 1919 – 2020.

• • • 

Alex’s hand inside cast of Vollis’

Meanwhile, when you’re in East Carolina, be sure to check out the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum in downtown Wilson, where you can literally put your hand in his.