Kohler Foundation Gift Completes the Restoration of the Vollis Simpson Whirligigs

North Carolina Arts Council

A vision six years ago by Wilson community leaders to restore and preserve the gigantic wind-driven kinetic sculptures created by one of North Carolina's most recognized artists took a giant leap toward completion with the announcement this week of a Kohler Foundation gift.

Organizers of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park announced that a new partnership with the Kohler Foundation will complete the restoration of the balance of Vollis Simpson's kinetic sculptures, set to top-off the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum, located in downtown Wilson.

The partnership is between Wilson Downtown Properties (WDP), the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum, (VSWP&M) and the Kohler Foundation.

"I am proud of our efforts to promote North Carolina's rich history of folk art," said Governor Pat McCrory. "This important milestone will build on our efforts and go a long way to help preserve our culture, boost tourism and support our state's overall economy."

The Kohler Foundation, based in Wisconsin, has agreed to complete the restoration of the collection of 31 large scale works that will be in the park upon completion, including 15 that have yet to be installed on the park site, as well as more than 50 small works.

Simpson's welded and painted whirligig constructions are monumental in scale and are exhibited at The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC; The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA; The Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD at the inner harbor; as well as Russia, London, California, Canada and New York. Simpson has been featured in several publications, including The New York Times, Sign and Symbol, People, Newsweek, Time Magazine, American Style, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Readers Digest and others.

The North Carolina Arts Council, who was represented at the announcement by Executive Director Wayne Martin, was one of the first funders of the project to restore the Lucama native's whirligigs, almost six years ago.

"The North Carolina Arts Council has always demonstrated leadership with their core belief that strong public and private partnerships have the power to transform communities through arts-based economic development," said Susan Kluttz, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. "The Kohler Foundation's generous gift that will complete the conservation of whirligigs will have an invaluable impact not only in the Wilson community, but across Eastern North Carolina."

As an initiative of Governor Pat McCrory, the state recently installed whirligigs at the I-95 North and South Welcome Centers to highlight the 'official folk art of NC' and the rich arts heritage the state offers.

The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, located along Goldsboro Street in downtown Wilson, was one of the first SmART Initiative programs of the N.C. Arts Council several years ago.

"I applaud the Kohler Foundation, the City of Wilson and local community leaders for working together to preserve the work of artist Vollis Simpson," said Martin. "As one of the pilot sites in the Arts Council's SmART Initiative program, Wilson is a national model for how to use the arts to revitalize downtowns, create jobs and increase tourism."

Kohler, which often brings in their own conservation experts, has been so impressed with the local park conservation team that they are retaining their expertise and may add additional specialists.

"We've seen our preservation projects change lives as they bring new vitality to a community, just like the Vollis Simpson whirligigs are already doing in Historic Downtown Wilson," said Terri Yoho, executive director of the Kohler Foundation. "Community and city leaders have been incredibly wise to realize what a cultural treasure they have in their midst and we are honored to be part of preserving this incredible collection of art for all to enjoy."

An early leader and local champion of the project Henry Walston, president of the all-volunteer Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum board, said the Kohler Foundation understands that the vision for the park is a vision for the future of downtown Historic Wilson.

"The Kohler Foundation has the same vision for Vollis' whirligigs that our group does", said Walston. "Not only do they love the artwork, but they understand the stimulus that the park will be for future development in Historic Downtown Wilson."

Earlier this year, the Wilson City Council committed to completing the key components of the Whirligig Park concurrent with the completion of the Whirligig Station project - a conversion of the historic Hi-Dollar warehouse space into a mix of residential, commercial and office space.

The Kohler Foundation, established in 1940, has long supported the arts and education. Nationally known for their work with the preservation of art environments and collections of art, the Kohler Foundation has preserved seven art environments in Wisconsin plus the Kenny Hill Sculpture Garden in Chauvin, LA; Hartman Rock Garden in Springfield, Ohio; and the monumental Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. The Wisconsin-based foundation has recently completed two major projects, perhaps their largest and most complex - St. EOM's Pasaquan in Buena Vista, Georgia and the Langlais Preserve in Cushing, Maine.

Active in preservation work since the late 1970's, Kohler Foundation acquires collections or sites through gift or purchase, provides professional art conservation treatment, fully documents the art, and then gifts the art to a non-profit recipient to be cared for into the future. The Foundation has placed works of art in more than 300 museums, universities, libraries, historical societies, and arts centers across the country.

Tom Corbett, president of the all-volunteer WDP board, said "Wilson Downtown Properties is very excited to join with such a prestigious foundation as Kohler. Their willingness to take on the completion of the whirligig restoration will allow us, along with the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum, to near finalization of the park, providing a cornerstone of downtown revitalization of which the community of Wilson can be extremely proud."

The completion of the park in its entirety is now comprised of a three-point approach: whirligig repair and conservation by the Kohler Foundation (in partnership with WDP and the VSWP&M); construction of the essential park elements by the City of Wilson; and construction of additional features, such as the farmer's market shelter, splash pad, signage and benches, through VSWP&M fundraising.

About Wilson Downtown Properties
Wilson Downtown Properties, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization which acts as the redevelopment partner of the Wilson Downtown Development Corporation (WDDC). WDP was created in order to put obsolete downtown properties back into adaptive reuse. This organization is able to purchase or receive donations of downtown properties and negotiate their resale and redevelopment. This is done in conjunction with private sector partners who have the expertise to rehabilitate historic downtown properties for new uses such as residential, office, retail and restaurant.

About Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum
The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum is a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization created to design, build and program a unique new park in Historic Downtown Wilson to serve as an arts-driven economic development engine. The massive, wind-driven kinetic sculptures designed and built by the renowned artist, Vollis Simpson, are being renovated and conserved to serve as the centerpiece of the new park. The non-profit will retain long-term ownership and maintenance responsibilities of the artwork collection.

About the N.C. Arts Council
North Carolina has long been recognized for rich traditions in crafts, literature, historical drama and music. For almost 50 years the N.C. Arts Council has worked to strengthen North Carolina's creativity, invention and prosperity through its four core functions: creating a strong and efficient arts infrastructure across North Carolina; planning and implementing economic development initiatives; educating our young people; and researching the impact of the arts on our state. www.NCArts.org.

About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state's natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. Led by Secretary Susan Kluttz, NCDNCR's mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to
experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state's history, conserving the state's natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development.

NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette's Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the N.C. Zoo, the nation's first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please call (919) 807-7300 or visit www.ncdcr.gov.


  • Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park
  • 301 Goldsboro St S
  • Wilson, NC 27893


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