Whirligigs head to I-95 welcome centers

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Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs will again be featured at state welcome centers on Interstate 95 at the state’s borders.

On Tuesday, a 13-foot-long metal creation with 1,100 reflectors was loaded onto a trailer and taken to the North Carolina Welcome Center on I-95 near Northampton County’s Pleasant Hill community.

Sandra Homes, executive director of the Wilson Visitors Center, said that a couple of months ago, the Wilson County Tourism Development Authority made the decision to purchase three whirligigs, two of which would be placed at welcome centers on I-95 with the third to be displayed at the Wilson Visitors Center on Broad Street.

The North Carolina Welcome Center on I-95 South is in Rowland at the South Carolina state line.

There had been whirligigs at the centers, but they were removed for repair and remounted in the new Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park prior to its opening in November.

Homes said Simpson’s kinetic sculptures will get good exposure at the welcome centers.

“They average about 3.3 million people that go through the welcome centers every year, so it’s a great advertisement for Wilson,” Homes said. “It’s a great way to sell Wilson.”

Jeff Bell, executive director of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum, agreed that having the whirligigs installed in two high-traffic areas like the welcome centers helps bring people to Wilson.

Bell’s office is in the Wilson Visitors Center and he frequently encounters tourists who came to Wilson specifically to see the whirligigs.

“I can’t even tell you how many people who saw them up there and would come just because they saw them, so that’s an incredible amount,” Bell said. “Even if they don’t come (to Wilson), people are being exposed to who Vollis Simpson was and maybe they will look him up or come later. I think it’s very important.”

The two sculptures don’t have official names yet.

“We really need to get with Mrs. Simpson to see if she remembers if there was ever a name put on each on of those pieces,” Homes said. “We will have to do that by this weekend, so then we will have signage in place for both of those structures that we can put out on the grounds of the welcome centers.”

The workers who restored them gave them informal names, Virginia Guitar Man and South Carolina Saw Man, based on where the sculptures are being sent.

Homes said placement of the whirligigs at the welcome centers would not have been possible without the restoration crew’s work.

“They have done the restoration getting the colors to be their true brightness,” Homes said. “NCDOT was very instrumental in helping us make this move as well as the state of North Carolina.”