Watching Pearl Fryar select a plant from the discards of the local nursery is a little like getting to see Michelangelo pick out a piece of marble. And what Fryar creates with the number of cast-off shrubs and trees -- over a number of years of patient trimming and sculpting well into the night -- is no less inspirational.
Pearl Fryar is tall and welcoming. He has a voice so low you'd have to go all the way to the left end of the keyboard to match it, and he's the subject of the documentary A Man Named Pearl, showing at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Lounge (admission is $7).
Directed by Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson, A Man Named Pearl took the Audience Awards at both the Heartland and Salem Film Festivals. It's a visually beautiful film that allows the spectrum of greens contained in Fryar's garden to fill the frame and makes use of high and low camera angles that punctuate his perseverance.
The film is unafraid in approaching the issue of race, an issue inextricably linked to the narrative of triumph it tells.
As a young African-American man first looking to buy a house in Bishopville, Fryar was turned away from a white neighborhood because, he was told, he "would not keep up his yard." Not long after, he made it his mission to win the local Irish Garden Club "Yard of the Month" award - and did, becoming the first African-American in the community to get that honor.
He worked tirelessly after 12-hour shifts at the soda-canning factor with no formal training in gardening (much less topiary sculpting). It's the "one time in my life, ignorance paid off," he says.
Through his work, he effectively put Bishopville on the map, and his topiary creations are now working to help revitalize Main Street, not to mention beautifying the local Waffle House (where he and his wife eat daily).
His entire block takes to topiary sculpting in his honor, turning it into probably one of the best-looking streets in the nation.
Pearl's expansive garden, as it stands today, is a little like if an old English formal garden had the free spirit that Lancelot "Capability" Brown (an eighteenth-century English landscape architect who went around redoing a number of fancy estates to make them look like the natural landscape) put so much labor into mimicking.
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It's a quirky and beautiful paradox that could really only exist in America. You won't easily forget this film or the man named Pearl whose work, and life, it chronicles.
A Man Named Pearl is presented by No Festival Required and SMoCA. The SMoCA Lounge is located at 7373 E. 2nd Street (in Scottsdale Civic Space), Scottsdale, AZ 85251.