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A Man Named Pearl (A Movie Review)

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

A Man Named Pearl


Featuring Pearl Fryar.

Directed by Scott Galloway.

Distributed by Shadow Distribution. 78 minutes. Rated G.

Art can be uniquely tailored to the individual.

Some people can look at a plant and just see a shrub. In the eyes of others, it may be a work of art.

Take, for example Pearl Fryar.

Fryar was never a gardener. He worked twelve-hour days at a local can-manufacturing plant. At one point he was looking to buy a new house is the small town of Bishopville, South Carolina. Word filtered down that the people in the all-white neighborhood did not want him there, because blacks never took care of their lawns.

This slight led to an obsession with gardening which changed the man’s life and has the potential to resurrect the economically stagnant small town which once wanted to reject him.

Fryar became fascinated by the idea of topiary – cutting trees to mold them into shapes. Usually topiary hedges are made into animals or shapes, but Pearl’s work is much more abstract – he has created a living sculpture garden.

Personally, the idea of topiary has never held much appeal to me. I’ve seen it at parks and tended to think it was nice and then move on quickly. I still remember being a little frightened of it as a child after reading the novel The Shining in which topiary animals came to life and attacked people.

Maybe I will give it more thought now that I have seen A Man Named Pearl.

Fryar has created a Seussian wonderland in his back yard, a surreal botanical menagerie of whirls, blocks, circles and planes. He is a believer in found art, using junk, knick-knacks and everyday items to complement his garden and make it a particularly American pop art.

His hobby has been more than a full-time job, the man works from early in the morning to late at night to create and maintain his living artwork. Through this passionate determination, this quiet but engaging elderly man has become a bit of a celebrity – being seen in magazines and on television, having his topiary studied as art at a local college and making his home a popular tourist destination.

Fryar does not seem to see his work as something to make himself rich (he does seem to charge for the tours, but I’d guess he barely makes enough for the upkeep of his spread.).

The locals seem to look at it with more of an eye to the bottom line – the county Chamber of Commerce head and the local preacher are just a little too open about their plans to use Pearl’s art to make money for the town.

However, by spending a little over an hour with Pearl Fryar and his family and friends, you realize that he really needs little in the way of fame and profit. Sometimes, it is nice to see someone who is dedicated to art for art’s sake.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008 All rights reserved. Posted: July 20, 2008.

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