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North Carolina Symbols of the Arts

North Carolina boasts some of the most intriguing and inspirational symbols of the arts. It can bury you in beautiful pottery, then lift you up to a Moravian star via an out-of-this-world whirligig.

Art Medium clay 2013
Pottery Birthplace Seagrove Area 2005
Folk Art Whirligigs by Vollis Simpson 2013
Star Moravian star 2023
Folk Dance clogging 2005
Popular Dance shag 2005
Theater Thalian Association 1975
North Carolina: Pottery

North Carolina has two official dances, clogging and the shag. However, they have some stiff competition.

North Carolinians didn’t exactly adopt pottery as a state symbol. Rather, they named clay the official art medium and the Seagrove area the official pottery birthplace.

Seagrove is a small town (population just over 200) that has served as a center for potters and pottery-making for over 250 years. Some families have been creating pottery in this clay-rich area of the Piedmont for nine generations.

Most early potters were farmers trying to earn some extra money. Later, they found it hard to compete with factory-produced pottery. Fortunately, there are still traditional potters.

In fact, Seagrove pottery became a collectors item in the early 20th century. Today, the Seagrove area is said to boast the largest concentration of working potters in the United States.

Whirligigs ˆ

If pottery doesn’t make North Carolina king of folk art symbols, wait until you check out Whirligigs, which was designated North Carolina’s official folk art in 2013. But is it really folk art? Let’s just say Vollis Simpson took folk art to a new level.

Whirligigs are typically animated mobiles or toys that people hang outside. For example, a whirligig could be a light wooden airplane with a propeller that turns in the wind.

Symbols of The ArtsVollis Simpson’s Whirligigs are bigger than life. (By bobistraveling, CC BY 2.0
Note: I combined three separate photos, erasing the backgrounds: ferris wheel | spaceship | airplane)

Vollis Simpson made a splash by creating huge, complex whirligigs that are simply amazing. Simpson transformed a washing machine into his first whirligig during World War II. He was hooked.

Years of working as a machinery repairman and house-mover gave Vollis a mountain of junk to work with. And so he labored alone on one whirligig after another.

You really can’t appreciate Simpson’s whirligigs without seeing them in motion. There are many videos online. Here are a couple.

Eventually, Simpson’s property was bristling with creations towering as much as 60 feet high. He even put reflective material on his whirligigs so they would glow at night under moonlight or the lights from passing cars.

People began to realize that Vollis Simpson’s thingamajigs were a treasure that would disappear after Simpson moved on. So the nearby town of Wilson offered to buy 30 of his giant whirligigs, restore them and move them to a park in Wilson. The project took seven years and cost $10 million, with Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park officially opening in 2017.

The project illuminated something as amazing as the whirligigs: their creator. It usually took five or six men and two cranes to set up a giant whirligig, a job that Simpson had done alone.

Some whirligigs have fan blades 24 feet across that power seven or eight different pieces of artwork. Some people struggle to understand how they work. Unlike creaky windmills, Simpson’s carefully balanced whirligigs produce only a gentle whir.

Though Simpson never named his whirligigs, other people did. Names like “Tricycle Globe,” “BBB Blue Star” and “Gunshot Bicycle Man” make Vollis Simpson’s fans part of the show.

Moravian Star ˆ

North Carolina: Proposed Symbols

In 2019, there was a failed attempt to make the Moravian cookie the state cookie. In 2023, cookie fans sweetened the deal by campaigning for two symbols, the Moravian cookie and Moravian star. This time they succeeded.

The Moravians were German settlers who settled around what is now Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1753. They brought the Moravian cookie and star from Germany to their new home. The star originated in the 1830s and was used by Moravians in schools to teach geometry to young boys. The traditional star has 26 points and is used as a Christmas decoration in North Carolina today.

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