Friday, August 23, 2013

The Reluctant Visitors: Meeting Pearl Fryar

Have you had the experience of someone recommending that you go someplace, and you just didn't want to go?  Even though the person raved and raved about it and said it was a "must see" and kept asking you if you'd been yet?  But something stubborn and rebellious in you kept resisting, just couldn't imagine that whatever it was could be that wonderful.  And then when you finally did go, did you feel a sense of gratitude and perhaps a little sheepishness that you'd doubted the recommendation?  Well, that's what happened to me with Pearl Fryar's garden.

If you're ever traveling down I-20 through South Carolina, do yourself a favor and don't resist - make a stop in Bishopville at Pearl Fryar's topiary garden.  There's not a lot to see along that stretch of highway, and it will add delight to your trip.  It won't cost you a thing, unless you choose to make a donation.  If you're lucky, Pearl himself will be there to welcome you and show you around his yard of marvelous topiaries and whimsical sculptures.

Pearl began his garden with the goal of winning the Yard of the Month award.  He had a 3-minute lesson from a man at the local nursery and went to work creating a fairyland of shaped shrubbery.  In his words, "I like to cut bushes." Pearl says that academics were not his favorite thing, but he had a gift for cutting bushes, and he has used that gift well.  Pearl's story has been featured in the movie, "A Man Named Pearl."
I was heading with a friend to her family reunion in Augusta, GA on a warm morning in July when we reluctantly turned off the interstate.  We had decided we would arrive before it opened and then take a quick look so we could say we had been there and then get back on the road.  Little did we know when we set off that morning that we would have a life-changing experience meeting Pearl Fryar and seeing his work.

The topiaries were amazing.  It's hard to capture them on film though if you visit Pearl's website, you'll see some great pictures.  Amongst the artfully trimmed shrubs and trees were "junk sculptures" also made by Pearl.  In one section spelled out in red begonias were the words, "Peace, love, and good will."  And those are the things Pearl spreads with his passion for trimming bushes.

Buses of school children and other groups drive in to view the gardens and to learn about Pearl's philosophy.  "Hate hurts" is one side of a sculpture, complete with a frowny face, and the flip side reads "Love and unity" with a smile.  Pearl explains to the kids that you have to let go of the negative and focus on the positive.  No matter what.  And the kids take his message to heart, letting him know years later how his seeds of positive thinking helped them stay on  course.

Pearl uses donations to his garden to grant scholarships to "C" students who will be attending junior or community colleges.  He wants to inspire students who may not have academic strengths to pursue their creative dreams.  You can read more about his scholarship program here.

Pearl's art and passion blew me away.  We at SpiritWorks Foundation want to make a difference in the life of a child.  Pearl is already doing that and by doing something he loves.  To think, that we might have missed out on seeing his extraordinary garden and learning about his beautiful vision.  I'm so grateful we didn't.  Meeting Pearl was a blessing and an inspiration.  I hope our paths will cross again.