Mike ‘Gibby-Siz’ Gibson, an artist focused on sacred geometry and topiary, has been all over lately, sharing his knowledge and excitement for the ancient skill of cutting and shaping shrubs and trees into fantastic shapes. From appearing on ‘Clipped’ with Martha Stewart to more recently being featured on ETV’s “Making It Grow” with South Carolina’s gardening Queen Amanda McNulty. Gibson may be making a name for himself for his topiary prowess, but it is a mistake to try to put him in a box. Mike Gibson has big plans and they are far-reaching!
Gibson is from Youngstown, Ohio, a “recovering” steel town. This is a parallel story to so many small towns in the South concerning agriculture. In the North many towns, were almost made ghosts by the disappearance of their primary industry – steel. So what happens when the jobs, opportunities, and majority of the population leave – crime? When Mike was growing up, Youngstown had the infamous distinction of being labeled “The Murder Capital of America”. While sharing that negative history, Mike Gibson is quick to counter it with the fact that many notable and famous people across various fields come from Youngstown. He says that Youngstown, “breeds champions”. A quick Google search lays out dozens and dozens of folks across sports, academia, and even Kool and the Gang are from his hometown.
So with such complicated roots, is it any wonder that his father, Michael, who is also an artist, would do whatever it took to keep his family safe and whole? When Michael, was assigning chores and instilling the discipline which he learned in the Navy, it was mainly to keep his children out of trouble and safe from the tough streets of Youngstown. How could he, or anyone for that matter, have imagined that that mandatory yard work coupled with Mike’s inherited artistic abilities, and directed by his hustle mindset would help him build a business and a host of other opportunities?
Mike differentiated himself from other landscapers in Youngtown in 2014 by calling himself a property artist who would add curb appeal by delivering an entire vision: from painting and power-washing homes to lawn care and jaw-dropping topiary installations. While HGTV was doing makeovers for people in California and New York State, he was taking care of his hometown. Mike was investing in and beautifying his neighbors’ homes and local parks. His impact can still be seen in Youngstown today.
So how and why did Mike Gibson come down South, to South Carolina specifically? It is a serendipitous story of Mike being told of Pearl Fryar, an acclaimed topiary artist, by his father in 2014. Just two years later, Mike and a friend would travel to visit Pearl’s garden in Bishopville, SC. At this and subsequent meetings, Mike was able to speak to his elder, and eventual mentor, and see the results of one man’s dedication to his vision. As the only African-American, of his time, to specialize in topiary, Pearl Fryar’s art was notable for its unique style and for helping to put a small town in South Carolina on the map. Inspiration is not always so on the nose as it was with Gibson and Fryar, but I am all for one unlikely star inspiring another. So with natural talent, a work ethic honed by his parents, and some mentorship from Pearl, Mike has developed his skills to become a master of his craft.
Then in 2021 Gibson and his family were able to move down to South Carolina to take up the clippers from the Fryar Garden topiary artist-in-residence and his predecessor, Mike Baker. After a year of hard work and amazing press, Gibson has been able to leave the Pearl Fryar Garden in good hands and continue to “cultivate” his own brand.
As an artist, teacher, and visionary, what began as a way to stay out of trouble is now his driving purpose to bring back the knowledge, art, and science of agriculture to the people. His desire to do something different and create his own lane is upon us. Mike is currently creating never-before-seen work with living plants, which will incorporate visual illusions that will keep audiences guessing.
I have to say that this interview is just a glimpse into who Mike Gibson is and just the tip of a very deep iceberg which was our 7-hour interview. I am so grateful to Mike for sharing so much of his story and vision for the future with me. If you have yet to hear of Mike Gibson, just give it a moment — you are about to!
Keep up with Mike “Gibby-Siz” Gibson on Facebook, Instagram, and his website.
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