Art Changes Lives

A Man Named Pearl is an inspirational documentary about a self-taught topiary artist whose imagination and creative tenacity have inspired and revitalized a depressed rural community
in South Carolina.

A Man Named Pearl

Photo courtesy of Shadow Distribution.

Pearl Fryar grew up in a poor North Carolina sharecropper family during the mid 1900s. In 1976, he moved to Bishopville, South Carolina, where he worked 12-hour shifts in a can factory for 36 years. His life’s work began as a collection of discarded shrubs and trees from a local wholesale nursery. These same “junk plants,” as he calls them, now lure visitors to Bishopville from around the globe.

I walked through Pearl Fryar’s three-acre opus of living sculpture and it was like cloud-watching. Rejuvenated hedges become verdant, abstract works of organic line, shape, form and texture. Fryar’s imagination permeates the community, causing friends, neighbors, and colleagues to tap into and share their own creativity. Throughout the town, streets and yards are adorned with topiary inspired by Pearl’s work.

Photo courtesy of Pedagogy of the Plants.

Fryar reaches out to children of all ages. I listened as he spoke to a group of garden visitors, encouraging them to focus their energy on personal artistic expression. As a public school teacher, I have seen firsthand how quickly an environment of high-stakes testing can squelch a child’s individuality and expression. Recognizing and celebrating subtle and elusive creative moments among my students is a challenge, but as Pearl Fryar showed me, the long-term effects can be socially transformational.


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