Pearl of Wisdom, Pearl of Love

When I awoke Monday morning, I knew I had a long drive in front of me (9 hours on the road would put me at my destination in Christiansburg, VA, later that evening), but I also had a shining golden carrot to draw me eagerly forward: a visit to the topiary gardens of Pearl Fryar in Bishopville, South Carolina. (http://www.fryarstopiaries.com/)

On his website, Pearl freely invites anyone who'd like to to come by and visit the incredible, amazing, fantastic gardens surrounding his home - a wonderland of shrubs that he's patiently spent the past 24 years gently coaxing into abstract shapes of whimsy and graceful elegance. It's not like I need much of an invitation to poke my nose around such a place anyway, so I excitedly drove to Pearl's house and parked my car along the neatly manicured but otherwise unremarkable suburban street that leads to the gardens. Unremarkable except for the fact that most if not all of Pearl's neighbors have gotten in the spirit and proudly display crisply shaped shrubs of their own in their front yards.

As I emerged from my car, that wide, beaming smile that graces my visage when I experience true awe began its march across my lips. The gardens were a vision of geometry and shape and fluid motion! Precision and flow nestled side by side. I wandered about, oohing and aahing, basking in the quiet beauty and serenity of the place. I marveled as one extraordinary shape gave way to the next, punctuated with beautiful and contemplative sculptures that I later learned Pearl had made himself.

It felt a bit awkward to be traipsing around a stranger’s yard gawking the way I was, but I was soon set at ease when I saw a figure emerge from the house and amble over my way. It was, of course, none other than Pearl Fryar, graciously offering to share his time in addition to giving the gift of his gardens.
Pearl shyly and humbly welcomed me and offered to walk with me as I wandered about. As we strolled around the garden, Pearl shared his amazing outlook on life with me, espousing so many of the notions I myself hold dear about loving people and sharing art. I was absolutely smitten. He’s just so full of love! So committed to the concept that he's inscribed the sentiment "Love, Peace & Goodwill" in enormous crisply chiseled letters as the focal piece of the central garden (which you can see in the picture above). He loves what he does, he loves the people he shares it with and he loves the community that has given him support – so much so that he’s set up a scholarship fund for local students so he can give something back. Pearl even teaches a class on creativity at the local college, helping students find their own unique route to accessing and expressing their vision of the world.

To my great, great delight, Pearl paused after we had chatted a bit and said, “How about after you’re done taking your pictures, we go to the Waffle House for a cup of coffee?” I could hardly believe my fortune. I was thrilled! Not only would I have the chance to enjoy chatting with an artist who embodies so many of the values I cherish, but I could ply him with questions about how it felt to have such a singular vision and bring it to life. I eagerly seconded the idea and set about making a couple more quick circles through the grounds, attempting in vain to capture the feeling of the place with my humble camera. When I was satisfied that I had at least captured enough of the look to remind me of the passion of the place, I intercepted Pearl as he warmly greeted yet another carload of visitors and told him I'd meet him at the Waffle House.
It occurred to me as I drove toward the familiar yellow and black sign that I must be in heaven. On the road, at the cross hairs of my intersection with a dazzling beam of human love, swigging coffee from a mug at Waffle House (one of my favorite greasy grills). I don't know about your book, but in mine, the meter was reading peak experience.

I met up with Pearl and we entered the Waffle House just as a queue of eager and excited children readied themselves to walk out the door and engage in a visit with Santa who was busy preparing for them in the bed of a pickup truck parked in the parking lot. The Waffle House was a hive of activity and made for a lively and joyous setting for our visit.

Pearl and I spent a really pleasant hour or so chatting about how he came to be inspired, how he dove into an art form he knew nothing about to begin with (Pearl is completely self taught) and how he's dealing with the sudden notoriety he's gained following the release of a documentary on him and his work and several articles that have recently appeared in international publications. Pearl takes it all in stride, though, effortlessly returning again and again to giving to people, as much as he can. He's a jewel of a man, that Pearl. Even treated me to coffee! After saying a heartfelt goodbye, I looked in my rear view mirror as I turned out of the parking lot to see Pearl visiting with Santa and the kids in a happy melee. I resumed my journey toward my friends Brooke and Aaron's house in Christiansburg, Virginia, with a huge glowing heart and a sense of how magnificent and amazing this world can be. Heroine. Pure heroine for the soul.

1 comment:

dave mix said...

I haven't yet seen Pearls gardens, but this week had the good fortune of meeting him and hearing him speak at American Nursery and Landscape Association's annual Management Clinic in Louisville Kentucky. He'd been invited to deliver a keynote address to this national gathering of the America's premier garden centers, landscapers and growers.

"I'm surprised that the reason I've been asked to speak to this particular group is that I don't know what I'm doing" was his opening sentence. "I hope [the person that hired me] still has a job when I'm done," he followed.

All 600 in attendance immediately loved Pearl Fryar. He inspired us like no other speaker has with comments like "well, some people think topiary should be a certain way so they can't do it. I suggest start with forms that are abstract. That way, if it doesn't grow out the way you first thought, you just take a little branch and work with it and make a whole new form. When people come in to visit, they don't even know it was a mistake."

My greatest take away? We learn to create by creating, not by focusing on the obstacles.