A Man Named Pearl is one of the most inspiring documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. The son of a sharecropper, Pearl Fryar wasn’t able to buy a home in his small town’s white neighborhood because prejudiced neighbors believed he, as a black man, “wouldn’t keep up his yard.”
In 1984, Pearl decided he wanted to try to win the “Yard of the Month” award. With no experience, no training, and using plants that had been thrown in the garbage, Pearl taught himself topiary sculpture and created a spectacular, whimsical, and completely original three-and-a-half-acre garden in Bishopsville, South Carolina. Take that, Edward Scissorhands!
Since he began his garden in 1984, Pearl has become a leader in his own community and recognized throughout the international art world for his unique and compelling vision. Now in his late 60s, Pearl continues to maintain his elaborate plant sculptures and welcomes visitors from his garden from around the world.
I’m really interested in self-directed learning, and Pearl Fryar has got to be the ultimate example–teaching himself a brand-new skill to execute a huge solo project! As a tutor, I’m really trying to teach my kids how to direct and customize their own learning when I’m not around. Ultimately I hope this helps them to find their passions and pursue and create what they really want. Pearl Fryar’s example of self-directed learning is extremely inspiring to me.
Pearl also spoke passionately about encouraging kids, especially the ones who might not be doing so well in school. “If you tell a kid by third grade that they’re not going to achieve at a certain level—I think that’s terrible.” Pearl lives the message of, “There’s always gonna be obstacles. The thing is you don’t let these obstacles determine where you go.”
One of the things he said that really struck me was, “Horticulture people come to my garden and say, ‘You shouldn’t be able to do that.’ And I’d say, “I didn’t know that.” I love it when people come at something from a different angle and find new solutions!
As an artist, I was also really inspired to hear Pearl talk about why he started his garden—not just to express himself, but also “to inspire others to find their creativity to work hard at it.” His advice to others? “Be patient and work hard until you figure it out.” And also, “you can’t be too big.” An amazing example of the growth mindset at work!
Pearl’s own website is here with directions on how to visit (“You just have to come visit me!”) There’s a nice little Q & A with Pearl on amazon. And the DVD of A Man Named Pearl is available on Netflix. I hope someday I can meet this inspiring artist in person!