Communing with all this nature leads me to sharing with you the stories of two incredible nature lovers. One man, now passed, brought the artistry of nature to "life" in wrought iron; the other man, still alive and kicking, brings out "life" in plants through topiary sculpture.
Philip Simmons, a master traditional craftsman, became interested in blacksmithing at the age of eight. He just knew a blacksmith would be his career. An apprenticeship at age 13 with an established local Charleston, SC smith began his lifelong obsession with ironwork- first in the traditional way [shoeing horses, fixing wagons, making/repairing tools] then by fixing wrought iron fences and finally switching over to artistic craftsmanship as he designed and created fences, gates, railings, and window grills all around Charleston and later the world. His pieces usually contain three-dimensional animals or plants, sometimes so real looking, you have to touch them just to be sure it's iron. I know all about Mr. Simmons because I've written a picture book biography about him. I hope to be subbing the manuscript shortly.
A writer friend of mine, told me about another South Carolinian she's writing about, a man named Pearl Fryar. Mr. Fryar, moved into a neighborhood in Bishopsville, where in the 1980s an individual-of-color wasn't welcomed partially because the community thought he 'wouldn't keep up his yard'. He decided to use his creative spirit to form a unique topiary garden with a message. A message he literally cut into the ground: Love, Peace, and Goodwill. He also wanted to win the community's "Yard-of-the-Month, just to make a point! No one told him the plants he rescued from the compost piles behind his local nurseries, couldn't or wouldn't grow and flourish. No one told him the plants and trees couldn't be "trained" to grow into specific shapes.So he planted them, nurtured them, grew them, trained them, and developed an extraordinary garden that horticulturalists around the world- not to mention tourists- come to see and admire. Oh, and yes, he did get Yard-of-the-Month. Can you say, yard-of-the-decade?
These two men stay with me; their hearts, their souls, their connection to their communities and giving back to others, it resonates within me. I can't help noticing all the commonalities these two men share:
Philip Simmons Pearl Fryar
- Came from meager beginnings Same
- Gained strong work ethic from his elders Same
- Grandparents who raised him were farmers/fishers Father was a sharecropper
- Loved working with children, sharing knowledge Same
- Received recognition for his craft on a national level Received recognition for his before recognition from his town. craft from State before his town
- Strong connection to nature Same
- Strong connection to his church and his community Same
- Inspiration to others, role model/mentor Same
- Unpretentious about his skill Same
The Philip Simmons Foundation. Both sites have photo galleries to admire their incredible work.
I hope the next time you see a tree or plant in a spiral or with an unusual curve, you'll smile and think of Pearl. Or the next time you pass a wrought iron fence or gate, you'll notice if it contains a bit of nature. As for me, thinking of these two men not only brings me a smile, it warms my heart and makes me want to reach out to others and offer a hand.
Thank you Mr. Simmons and Mr. Fryar for sharing your gifts and your spirit with the rest of us.