A Man Named Pearl

2008, Movie, G, 0 mins


Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson's irresistible documentary about self-taught topiary artist Pearl Fryar is a portrait of a polite, church-going, thoroughly decent man who found his bliss training and trimming discarded plants into fantastical things of beauty.

Sixty-six year old Pearl Fryar's father, a sharecropper with a third-grade education, raised his children to work hard, mind their manners and believe they could achieve whatever they put their minds to. When Fryar and his wife -- who optimistically married her unemployed beau because she though he "had potential" -- moved to Bishopville, North Carolina, they ran smack into the kind of bigotry that would have embittered a different kind of man.. His modest response to their belief that black people don't keep up their yards was to set his sights on the Bishopville Garden Society's lawn of the month award. The sum total of his horticultural training was a three minute demonstration at a local nursery; "People from the horticulture world come to my garden," he says, "and the first thing the y would say [was] 'You shouldn't be able to do that.' And then I would say to them, 'I didn't know that.'" Every day for years, Fryar came home from work and devoted hours to his garden; his family worried that he might be a little touched, always outside "clipping things up." But Fryar's ever-evolving garden eventually grew into three acres worth of uniquely fantastical abstract topiary designs, a tourist attraction that put Bishopville on the map and earned him a reputation as a sculptor whose medium was living plants. Visitors range from the soft-spoken tourists who see parallels with traditional Japanese gardens but respectfully venture that Pearl's artistry surpasses them, to the small child who gently runs his hands over the surface of a carefully shaped bush; when a regional museum commissioned a piece, Fryar was glad to oblige. But he was just as quick to respond to a half-joking remark by the manager of a fast-food franchise, and he's clearly just as happy with breakfast on the Waffle House as he is with art-world accolades.

Pierson and Galloway's film could easily have devolved into "aw shucks" clich ├ęs, and the fact that it doesn't is a tribute to both the filmmakers and their subject. Fryar's inherent dignity and creative sensibility inform every frame and lend real gravity to his quiet declaration that "I am a man named Pearl, and this is my garden." leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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