Its source is Vollis Simpson, 79, a farmer and house mover turned folk artist from tiny Lucama, N.C. "They call me an artist," says Simpson. "So I guess I am." Simpson first discovered his passion for tinkering while stationed in Saipan during World War II. When the Japanese bombed his base, he collected parts from wrecked planes and built a wind-powered washing machine.
In 1950, three years after marrying his wife, Jean, 71, he opened a repair shop. "I've built everything you see around here," says Simpson, alluding to the two dozen giant kinetic sculptures—from windmills to an eight-foot-tall guitarist who strums and taps his foot—that stand in a nearby pasture. The works draw tourists—some buy smaller sculptures for $100 to $300—and, sadly, vandals (the artist currently faces charges in an incident involving birdshot and two injured teens).
Much of his joy, he says, comes from figuring out the mechanics for a new piece and finding just the right parts from the mountains of salvage he has assembled. "You don't just go out there, hokey-spokey, and pick up everything you need," he says. "But I know I've got it—if I can find it."