Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This 30-foot-tall kinetic sculpture is made up of many salvaged metal pieces (like bicycle wheels and machine parts) that move when the wind blows. The heavy material of the pieces contrasts with the playfulness of the sculpture’s movement in the wind.
- Vollis Simpson was a self-taught folk artist from North Carolina. He referred to his kinetic sculptures as “wind machines” and “whirligigs.” He created Wind Machine for the NCMA at the age of 83.
- Simpson began building wind machines when he was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. After the war he built several large windmills, including one that powered the heating system in his house. In 1985 he retired and began making monumental wind machines on his brother’s farm in Lucama, NC.
- Simpson collected spare parts and used his machine-building skills to create art from metal scraps that most people would consider to be junk. He often attached pieces to his sculptures that gave them a whimsical feel. Wind Machine includes metal pinwheels and a machine part that resembles a Ferris wheel.
- In 2013 Simpson’s whirligigs were named North Carolina’s official folk art.
- Today the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC, features a permanent outdoor collection of 30 of Simpson’s wind machines.
Wind Machine is a kinetic sculpture — meaning it uses movement for artistic effect — created by North Carolina–born artist Vollis Simpson. It was commissioned and installed in 2002, prior to the 2003 opening of the North Carolina Museum of Art Park.
Simpson was born in Wilson County, North Carolina, in 1919. While stationed in Saipan during World War II, Simpson began building small wind machines. The fascination he held for wind-powered devices never left him — and it was when he was nearing retirement as a repairman that Simpson began to build whimsical, dancing, and spinning whirligig sculptures from discarded vehicle parts, streetlights, and other castoff objects.
Eventually, a variety of one-of-a-kind whirligigs decorated his farmland in Lucama, North Carolina. Locals discovered the art — and it wasn’t long before Simpson’s whirligigs became a tourist destination. Today the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in downtown Wilson displays and preserves the artist’s collection — which still draws quite the crowd.
The Wind Machine whirligig here at the Museum was made from various recycled metal parts including fan blades, bicycle rims, and industrial truck parts. It was painted in bright patriotic colors. Unfortunately, as with all outdoor sculptures, its colors faded, and the parts deteriorated over time due to prolonged exposure to the elements. Many of the fans had also stopped spinning.
In 2016 Wind Machine was refurbished and reinstalled so it can spin with renewed gusto for visitors who happen across it near the Smokestack and Welcome Center. In fact one of the North Carolina Museum of Art’s conservators narrowly avoided getting hit by one of its spinning propellers during routine maintenance, when a sudden wind drift turned the sculpture and swung its spinning blade in her direction. It was a close call, and a reminder of the hard work and sometimes unseen dangers that go into maintaining and conserving the unique sculptures that call the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park home.
tags: STEAM, force, movement, part/whole, play, power, reuse, environment, physics, engineering, whirligig
Resources for Teachers
- Try an activity that uses recycled materials to create art.
- Read an article about Vollis Simpson.
- Read a short article about folk art.
- View other examples of kinetic sculpture.
Resources for Students