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Give it a Whirl

Feb. 27, 2017

The late Vollis Simpson created sculptural art via “whirligigs,” which continue to stun people who view them in person. Mayer Fabrics and Sunbrella have come together to interpret the effects of the unprecedented work in an unexpected medium.

A World War II veteran who worked in machinery repair and home moving after returning from overseas, Vollis Simpson salvaged varied parts from machines, transportation supplies, and other objects that were later deemed works of art when integrated into unique, massive structures.  
When he retired at 65, Simpson started experimenting with his collection of odds and ends, which led to constructing colossal windmills in his yard that became known as “whirligigs.” They soon attracted the attention of locals, and after generating a buzz online, visitors from other states. Without any official advertising, Simpson’s farm became a tourist destination in Wilson County, N.C.

Today, the stunning whirligigs have been translated into textile designs that are unique to the product category. Mayer Fabrics and Sunbrella partnered with the Vollis Simpson Foundation to develop the visuals and bring them to fruition in the form of high-performance fabric that comprise the Vollis Simpson Collection.

As a fan of Simpson, Tracy Greene, design manager for Glen Raven and Sunbrella, found that his pieces were being moved from his farm, restored, and relocated to a sculpture park in Wilson County. The rest is history. “I had the idea that his work would be a great inspiration for a textile collection,” she said. “The idea here is an art-inspired collection with bright colors that could evoke some happiness in hospitals, schools, a waiting room, etc.”

Greene worked with Lucia Kennerly, Mayer’s director of product development, on the collection. “The [pattern themes] come directly from the motifs Vollis Simpson used in creating his whirligigs,” Kennerly noted. “What Tracy really played on and what we developed are designs with different kinds of geometric shapes that actually were part of the [structures]. It is taking [a figure from] the Maker Movement and translating his work into a textile. Little squares, spokes, airplanes, metal strips, road signs, reflectors, bicycles, tin cups—anything he could salvage was used in [the whirligigs]. We tried to incorporate the key design elements into the pieces.”

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