‘Whimsical and fun art’: Foundation helps with whirligig restoration project

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The restoration of Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs got a helping hand thanks to a partnership with a national foundation.

Officials announced on Tuesday that the Kohler Foundation Inc. will be managing and funding the restoration work, but foundation Executive Director Terri Yoho declined to release a dollar amount associated with the new partnership.

“We never share financial information, but it is a significant amount,” Yoho said. “We hope to bring the project to a close in six or seven months if all goes well.”

Yoho said the current group of craftsman working to restore the whirligigs are doing a great job, so they will not be replaced. Some additional conservation experts will join the restoration efforts of 16 large-scale works that have not been installed at the park as well as more than 50 smaller pieces.

“The Kohler Foundation has the same vision for Vollis’ whirligigs that our group does,” said Henry Walston, president of the all-volunteer board of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum. “Not only do they love the artwork, but they understand the stimulus that the park will be for future development in historic downtown Wilson.”

As many of the original components of Simpson’s whirligigs are being restored as possible while other pieces — such as the reflective metal used on many of the spinning wheels — are being mimicked.

“Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs are truly American treasures,” Yoho said. “It is projects like this that define who we are and pave a way for the future. I commend the community for recognizing what a treasure they have.”

While conservation crews are focused on the whirligigs themselves, the city is in charge of transforming the dirt-covered lot into a park that will attract people far and wide. Officials said hopefully the first phase of the project will be done within a year, but park board member Kimberly Van Dyk said those involved are fundraising to cover the cost of upgrades such as a splash pad, a band stand and other amenities.

N.C. Arts Council Executive Director Wayne Martin said the project is a prime example of the importance of partnerships between the public and private sectors, adding that the folk art showcases the heart of Wilson, eastern North Carolina and the state. Yoho echoed his sentiments.

“Vollis Simpson’s work is totally accessible,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, what education you have, what color you are or how old you are. It is whimsical and fun art.

“When a kid sees something like that, then they are inspired. When you open their minds through the arts, the opportunities are endless, exciting and wonderful. You are doing that in this community and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”

Wilson Downtown Properties board President Tom Corbett said highlighting such a unique artisan will bolster economic development in downtown and beyond.

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

The Kohler Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the plumbing product company of the same name. The foundation has worked to place art in more than 300 locations throughout the country as well as preserve artistic collections. To learn more about the foundaiton, go to http://www.kohlerfoundation.org/.

For more information on the park, visit http://www.wilsonwhirligigpark.org/.

bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com | 265-7821