Monday, August 26, 2013

Trip to Bishopville

While in South Carolina in June, I took a four hour detour to Bishopville in order to see Pearl Fryar's remarkable topiary. I had first learned of his work through a documentary film (A Man Named Pearl) I came across a couple of years ago. I don't think I ever heard the word "topiary" before seeing the film and one of the interesting aspects of Pearl's work is that he had been making his plant sculptures for years before he learned the word either. In summary, Pearl started his art installation in 1980, at the age of 40, without any background in horticulture or art, just an intuitive sense and an obsessive desire to create something sensational.

Pearl would work his day job, (I think at a local Coca Cola bottling plant) and then come home and continue working late into the night -- midnight, 2 am, whatever it took to realize his vision.

After about ten years of work, his two acre plot started to get local notoriety. He had hoped to win the Bishopville Garden of the Month award but, because he lived outside the city limits, was not eligible; however, (if my memory is right) a local state senator, after seeing his work, told the garden club that if he didn't win the award, they should just stop giving it out, so he finally won.

Pearl worked with plants that had been discarded by the local nursery, finding trees and bushes for free and, because he didn't know not to, doing things that no knowledgeable horticulturalist would try; thus, his work is inventive and unique.
While visiting, I was fortunate to meet Pearl and found him to be extraordinarily generous with his time. He spent an hour with me, talking, showing me his work, and giving me tips on how to create my own tree/bush sculptures.

These days, he gets about 10,000 visitors a year wondering around his property (thankfully, a public restroom was installed by Coca Cola -- I think they were the sponsor), and Pearl spends most of the day time talking to visitors, then, continues to work through the night maintaining and improving the installation. There is no charge to visit, however, if one wants to make a donation, there is a box at the front where you can leave something. This isn't, has never been, and likely never will be, a profit-making endeavor. Pearls mission, and the destination of all proceeds he collects, is to support scholarships to a local community college so that underprivileged youth can get a opportunity to a higher education -- so if you can give a donation, anything you can provide is appreciated, but all are welcome to visit, regardless of ability to pay.
These days, Pearl has some sponsors that help him maintain his property, including, John Deer, Waffle House, Coca-Cola, and McDonalds (I think). He also has an intern that gives him about 20 hours/week. Still, at the age of 74, Pearl doesn't seem to have slowed down much. He is in fantastic shape and is in constant motion, keeping everything just right.
Originally from Clinton, North Carolina, Pearl said that although he always had creative leanings in school, with an intense interest in art and drawing, his artistic education was actively discouraged and he ended up getting degrees in Chemistry and Math. After school, he first worked for a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Upstate New York and was later transferred to a plant in Bishopville.

Pearl's sculptures seem to fall into two categories, the more rigid, tight, geometric kind, often made along the themes of triangles and pyramids, like below:

And the more free-form, experimental work that are completely original designs, seeming to have been made for the simple pleasure of creating unusual shapes, like these:

The one below is my absolute favorite, and is a combination of the two styles, free-form but still made with tight, beautiful bubbles.
Below are a few images to give you a better idea of the lay-out and surrounding property. This one is a side view of the exit from Pearl's drive.
Pearl's property is consists of two side by side (approximately) one acre lots. The image below is the "gateway" to the lot to the left of his house lot.

Below is a straight on view of the exit.
And this is looking out from the exit, toward the neighbor's lots.
Behind the "gateway" of Pearl's side lot he has verbalized the inspiration for all his art, "Love, Peace, and Goodwill."

After Pearl installed these topiary numbers, his address was changed to 145, but since it was too difficult to change, he has left it as is.   
Below is a work in progress. You can see that Pearl trains the vegetation to grow on PVC piping that he has painted black. To anchor the PVC, Pearl first uses pieces of rebar as steaks that the PVC fits over. He then attaches the vegetation to the PVC with little plastic ties.
So that birds will feel welcome, Pearl has also installed a custom bird house.
And, as mentioned earlier, there is a public restroom on the grounds, built with a donation from Coca-Cola(?).
And here is one final image of Pearl, with one of his fountain sculptures, in front of my favorite topiary. I highly recommend a visit to his topiary, certainly if it is within a four hour drive. There are so many tourist attractions wherever one travels and so few truly authentic sights that are open to the public. Pearl is so unbelievably welcoming and so generous with his property. It is truly heart-warming how much love he instills in his work and how dedicated he is in using this vision to do some good in the world. I hope his example inspires many more Pearls in the world.