April 2006

Pearl Fryar

Topiary Artist

Pearl Fryar just wanted to win Yard of the Month. However, he lived outside city limits of Bishopville, SC and so his yard was not within the standard area to be judged for the competition. He knew that he would have to do something drastic to get noticed. After just a three minute topiary lesson from Mr. Spitzer, who has a Nursery in Camden, Fryar began his project. He took his pride and his electric hedge trimmers to his yard, turning it into a menagerie of shrubs that he had handcrafted into art pieces, and caught the attention of his neighbors. In the process, a career was launched.

Fryar’s yard off Interstate 20 is now a bona-fide tourist attraction. His work in the topiary arts has been displayed in museums across the South, and on “CBS-Sunday Morning” and “HGTV.” Not a bad outcome for a guy who simply wanted to win Yard of the Month. Making topiaries is the art of cutting trees and shrubs into imaginative shapes that dates back to the Roman Empire. It originally had a much wider meaning, referring to ornamental gardening in general. And though topiary has European roots, the art form did not find its way to America until the early 19th century. It emerged here when wealth began to flourish in the New World. It was reserved for Southern plantations and large Northeastern estates were adorned with topiary. Often, it was slaves who would master the art form, especially in the South. Fryar would make his name as a topiary artist under a different set of social circumstances.

Fryar, who worked in an aluminum can plant in Bishopville, is not wealthy. But the three acres surrounding his brick, ranch style home is indistinguishable from the gardens that were once emblematic of fabulous wealth. Fryar is also a self-taught artist, something that makes his accomplishments all the more stunning and also a curiosity in the art world. It earned him an invitation to the South Carolina State Museum, where Fryar’s work was exhibited. That has lead to Fryar’s work being exhibited all over the country.

Today, there are bus tours that come to his house. He is an in-demand speaker on the lecture circuit, speaking to art groups, gardening clubs and at schools where he likes to visit and inspire children to follow their dreams. He has also served as an artist-in-residence at Coker College, where the self-taught artist now teaches art classes. Recently, the documentary, “A Man Named Pearl,” about Fryar’s life and art, was premiered to great reviews at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. At the festival, Pearl was not sure about addressing the audience, however, when he went on stage, the audience went wild. The film even won the Audience Appreciation Award. Fryar has more than 1,000 plants, which qualifies his home as the largest private topiary garden in the country.