A Man Named Pearl
“What I like about the man is he’s a philosopher.” – Augustus McRay, Lonesome Dove.
I wrote yesterday of my lunch conversation with Jim Allen. Today I want to record my memories of my second philosophical encounter of the day.
After lunch, I rendezvoused with some of the family and we made the two-hour trek to Bishopville, SC. There we visited the home of Pearl Fryar and I was blessed to engage him in discussion.
I first learned of this amazing man when I saw a documentary on PBS entitled “A Man Named Pearl.” (http://www.amannamedpearl.com/). I was riveted. The story unfolded of an African American man who bought his home in Bishopville, SC in the early 1960’s, a time when that was a difficult thing to do for African Americans. Aware that there were certain unkind misperceptions about how he would tend his property, he set out to maintain the best yard in the neighborhood. He is very artistic and would like to have worked with wood, but says he could not afford his talent. So, starting with landscaping materials that others had discarded, he taught himself the art form of topiary. And in the decades that followed, he has developed into a real-life Edward Scissorhands. His topiary is stunning, unique, amazing … well, fill in the blank with your own superlative adjectives.
But as captivating as his topiary is, I would not have made the 135-mile trip to see the art. What compelled me to Lee County was the man.
Pearl Fryar’s artwork is unique because he is unique. And I told him so. Let me give two brief examples.
Mr. Fryar told me that there was a part of the documentary that he did not want included. It was the part about being turned down to purchase a home because of race. He says he wanted every minute of “the movie” to be positive, because nothing positive comes from dwelling on the negative. Happiness is not about obstacles, he says, because every life has obstacles. Instead, it’s all about what you do with the obstacles you face. So he faced racial barriers. He would not allow that to be his excuse. Instead, it was his motive to “rise above the average” in keeping his yard. So he saw no point in the documentary even mentioning the racial barriers. I told him I thought it was his ability to remain positive and rise above those barriers that made him so compelling. “So you think it should have been in the movie?” he asked. “Yes, personally, I do,” I said. “Hmm,” he said, as if he wanted to think about it some more. And that was the end of that discussion.
Another example of Mr. Fryar’s unique outlook: With the notoriety that came from the documentary, he has started a foundation which will not only preserve his amazing garden in the future, but which now gives scholarships to young people. Now, we all know about scholarship programs that reward high-achieving students. Mr. Fryar’s scholarships are for C students. He figures there’s enough help for A students, but someone needs to provide an education that will keep a young man out of jail or a young woman from teenage pregnancy. That makes sense to me, but it would never have occurred to me. It occurred quite naturally to Pearl Fryar.
Well, I could go on for some time about the depth of my joy in meeting this artist philosopher. Let me do this instead. Let me say that if you ever come within a two-hour drive, you truly owe it to yourself to meet this man. And in the meantime, take a peek at some of his work.
This is his website: http://www.fryarstopiaries.com/
This is a video of his garden: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfU2vzZrUho
This is a video of him demonstrating his craft: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wPmw9l3euA
Father, You invested Yourself in Your creation. It tells us about You. And as creatures made in Your image, You have given us the ability to communicate our personalities through our creativity, too. Thank you for the unique gifts You’ve given to Mr. Fryar. Thank you for the opportunity to meet him. Please help me to live in such a way that my life communicates Christ living in me.