Driving along Church Street in the early 1990s, one yard could make you turn your head, slow down or even stop to see what was going on. That yard belonged to the late Herron Briggs, who was known as the “whirligig man.” Briggs was an African American folk artist who lived in the Haynie Sirrine Neighborhood for more than three decades. His creations, made mostly out of tin cans, toy wheels, fans, and other items, were on full display in his plane garden.
Briggs, who had never flown or been on a plane, was fascinated by all types of aircraft and would model his artwork after them. Before focusing on his art, Briggs worked as a forklift driver at the Donaldson Airforce Base. In a 1998 article with the Atlanta Constitution Journal, Briggs spoke about his love of plane making, saying, “it’s been in me all along, but I didn’t think it would go this far. His artwork got so popular that passersby from his neighborhood and around the nation would stop to get a look at his creations.
“Growing up, it was just a bunch of silly looking stuff in his yard,” says Felsie Harris, president of the Haynie Sirrine neighborhood association. “But now I find it quite fascinating. It’s like he was trying to tell a story.”
Greenville artist Lynn Greer got a chance to spend some time with Briggs in the late 1990s, getting inspiration for a piece she was creating about him.
“We would talk about all of the things that he was growing in his garden,” says Greer. “He was such a unique human.” Greer says Briggs’ work would put a smile on everyone’s face.
Herron Briggs and his wife Lida had six children together. He died in 1999 at the age of 75, but his artwork lives on and can be seen in the South Carolina State Museum’s folk art archive.