Whirligigs get new director in artist, sculptor

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.

Artist Jeff Bell vividly recalls the first time his attention was captivated by the kinetic sculptures at Vollis Simpson’s farm.

“My mom, who was a high school science teacher, had heard about them and the physics of it is what interested her,” Bell said. “I don’t even know if she referred to it as art or said, ‘Let’s go look at these things.’ Like a lot of people, I just really responded to it, but I don’t know if I had a conception of what art was yet, but I really loved it.”

As the teenage Bell learned to drive, he’d often make the trip from his hometown of Goldsboro to see the whirligigs and in time, he became a sculptor who shared Simpson’s emphasis of found objects.

“Working with found materials, I think it is about a way of thinking about materials and using them in different ways than they were initially intended,” Bell said.

After years of working in museums around the Triangle area, Bell is returning to his eastern North Carolina roots as the new executive director for the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum.

“Jeff’s past job experience, and the fact that he is also an artist that uses recycled materials, seems a natural fit for him to lead the (whirligig park and museum) forward at this point,” board Chairman Henry Walston said in a press release. “

Bell has worked at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, CAM Raleigh and the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham. His predecessor as executive director was Jenny Moore, who left the post in June after almost five years to work with the N.C. Arts Council.

“I’ve been blown away by all of the work that has been done with the amazing fundraising and the conservation that has taken place,” Bell said. “I look forward to helping continue what everyone has been able to accomplish.”

Officials said Bell’s focus going forward will encompass fundraising, education, programs and community outreach as work ramps up to finish the park by the N.C. Whirligig Festival on Nov. 4 and 5.

“I’m a big proponent of art, obviously. I’m a big believer in what art can do for the economics of an area,” Bell said. “I’ve seen what it has done for the culture of downtown Durham and how CAM Raleigh has helped the warehouse district to be one of the most up-and-coming areas in Raleigh.

“I think there is a huge community benefit to having art, but I also recognize that art is a magnet for commercial opportunities as well.”

Bell lives in Smithfield with his wife and two children, but he said they are considering moving. His office is at the Wilson Visitors Center at 209 Broad St. W.

To learn more about the park and museum, visit www.wilsonwhirligigpark.org.

bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com | 265-7821