Thursday - August 05, 2021
Whirligig Restoration Gets Big Boost
Written by Staff   
Friday, 05 August 2016 14:47

WILSON -- 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 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.



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