Jean Simpson said he died at his Lucama farm Friday evening, the Wilson Daily Times reported.
"He just went to sleep and didn't wake up," she said.
Simpson had undergone heart valve replacement surgery in February.
The World War II veteran who made a living as a house mover, mechanic and farmer started creating his whirligigs about three decades ago.
His creations attracted people from across the country to his workshop where he would tell them about his work while cracking jokes while sitting in a chair, clad in old jeans and a baseball cap, the newspaper said.
Simpson said he came up with the idea of making whirligigs because he had leftover junk from his business he wanted to re-purpose.
Of his first effort, he said in 2010, "I didn't know anything about art; I still don't."
But people loved his windmills, some as tall as 60 feet, the Daily Times said. His whirligigs wound up at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore and not only inspired an annual festival in Wilson, but state lawmakers to name whirligigs the state's official folk art.
"He was a fellow from the country, but also a visionary guy and a hard-working man," Joe Newberry, a former public information officer at the state Department of Cultural Resources, told The News & Observer in Raleigh. "He once said he wanted to do something with windmills, 'And it turned out to be art, I reckon.' Sure enough."