Left to right: the restored Incredible Technical Whirling Cat (2005), Flying High (2005), and Wilbur (1987).
HMA's 2004-2005 three-piece Vollis Simpson whirligig project for the SALT Block grounds had originally been conceived of as a commission for one single monumental whirligig. That project had been made possible by a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council (an agency funded by the State of North Carolina and the National Endowment for the Arts), as well as by some individual donations.
However, before he started working on this huge piece, the then-85-year-old Simpson was seriously burned in a workshop accident and needed rehabilitation and recuperation. As a consequence, he was "only" able to create for HMA the 500 pound and 18 foot tall Incredible Technical Whirling Cat (funded by the grant) along with the somewhat smaller Flying High (commissioned for the project by folk art collectors Barry and Allen Huffman). The Huffmans also donated Wilbur from their own collection to complete the three-piece installation.
These three pieces in front of the Museum have delighted visitors since being installed in 2005, but their exposure to the weather over time had led to deteriorating paint, rust, and other damage. Restorative work was needed to save the works for posterity; and where better to get that done than where Simpson's other works were being also being taken care of? HMA had been invited to make use of the conservation services offered as part of the grant-funded Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Project (next paragraph); and after some consideration, HMA accepted the invitation. Thus, in April 2016, HMA's whirligigs joined the line awaiting restoration at the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Repair and Conservation Headquarters. (The Project accepted paying customers for its services for a limited time, as one way of supporting the core park needs.)
The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Project in downtown Wilson NC was initiated in 2010 with a dedication to the permanent repair, conservation and enjoyment of the original 29 large-scale Simpson whirligigs. Next to the park is the Whirligig Repair and Conservation Headquarters (in reality, a large warehouse) which is where HMA's three whirligigs spent from November 29th, 2017 to May 5, 2018 being professionally and lovingly taken apart, stripped to the metal, repaired, restored, repainted in the original colors, weatherized, and the whirling mechanisms rebuilt. Below, Incredible Technical Whirling Cat is carefully taken down at HMA by professional movers for its renovation adventure.
During HMA's conservation process, Juan Logan, retired UNC Chapel Hill professor and acclaimed artist, served as the project liaison for HMA. Other members of the conservation team included Dennis Montagna from the National Parks Service, artisans from the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and DuPont, along with a National Advisory Board. New protocols for conservation of outdoor folk art and vernacular artist environments have been established through this project’s pioneering work.
In addition, in the process of creating the park, Wilson became a national model for creative placemaking. Cities all over the Untied States are rallying around their best arts assets to create the hearts of large and small cities.
More about the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum.
More about Vollis Simpson the artist and man.
Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since March 2015. Photos are by HMA staff,