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Pearl Fryar is a self-taught artist, philanthropist and teacher whose body of work exemplifies how art and design can engage and inspire people. Born outside Clinton, N.C. in 1939, Fryar attended North Carolina College and lived for several years in New York State before settling in Bishopville, S.C. with his family in the late 1970s. After building a house outside the Bishopville city limits, Fryar decided he wanted to win Yard of the Month. However, the award was only given to Bishopville residents. Nevertheless, Fryar decided to create a truly extraordinary garden that would call for an exception to the rule. He discovered topiary, the ancient art of cutting trees and shrubs into imaginative shapes, and had a quick lesson from a plant nursery owner. Through countless hours of work, creativity, patience and determination, Fryar shaped his shrubs into a fantastic topiary showcase, not only winning the coveted Yard of the Month award but attracting attention from near and far. Fryar continued to add to and modify his topiary collection, with some of his current work spanning more than 20 years in the making. More recently he started creating metal sculptures to augment the collection of unique objects surrounding his home.
Fryar’s work as a topiary artist is well-respected among both artists and horticulturists. His popularity has brought visitors to Bishopville from all around the world, with more than 10,000 people visiting his garden annually. They come to see the amazing creations and to meet and be inspired by the artist himself.
His work has been displayed in museums and arboretums and has been featured in exhibitions at the South Carolina State Museum and Spoleto. He frequently gives presentations about his work throughout the United States. As an artist-in-residence at Coker College, he shared his skills and artistic vision with art students. In 2006 a documentary film about Pearl’s life and art, A Man Named Pearl, was released in theaters. It won positive reviews and awards at multiple film festivals and has been shown on cable television channels.
In addition to local and state media coverage, Fryar has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, the Martha Stewart Show and the Victory Garden and in numerous books, newspaper and magazine articles, including Southern Living, Veranda, the New York Times, Harper’s Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.
In 2006, a group of Fryar’s friends created a nonprofit, the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, Inc., to preserve Fryar’s artistic and horticultural legacy beyond his lifetime. The Garden Conservancy, a national nonprofit organization, recognizes Fryar’s garden as a work of great originality and a community resource and partners with the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden to encourage public appreciation of the garden and support Fryar’s dream of inspiring visitors.
When Fryar began his garden, he had no horticultural training and therefore no limitations about working with plants. Consequently, he created sculptures that no one knew were possible in a setting of art, beauty and creativity. Just as Fryar nurtures his material, looking for the potential in each plant, he seeks to inspire people, particularly youth, to find their own potential. He believes strongly in higher education and contributes to scholarships for students who might not have done well in high school but who show potential. His message to students is that their success is determined by their drive, dreams and hope, and that they too, can use their creativity to pursue their goals.