published Monday, February 11th, 2013

'Found' kindness: Georgia antiquers create art from found objects, and, in turn, help others

Owner John LeMay puts lettering on the window of Trestle Side Antiques in downtown Ringgold.
Owner John LeMay puts lettering on the window of Trestle Side Antiques in downtown Ringgold.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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    Debbie Fleming braids men's ties into a chair seat Tuesday at Trestle Side Antiques. Her business, God Oddities Off the Wall Decor, is located inside the Ringgold antiques mall. She uses items that others have discarded to create her artwork.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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    Debbie Fleming uses found objects to make artwork.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

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    Trestle Side Antiques is located in downtown Ringgold.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

The sign says antiques, but there's ministry going on behind the doors at Trestle Side Antiques.

It's not the pulpit-expounding kind; it's the quiet, unobtrusive kind.

John and Andrea May, owners of the Ringgold, Ga., antiques store, use part of their sales to support their nonprofit ministry, Thy Kingdom Come Inc. Memorial. Their primary focus is the purchase of land for a baby cemetery where, John May says, they would be able to help parents who are not able to bury their stillborn children or erect a headstone for a dead child.

The idea began with Andrea, who lost two babies at birth, he says.

"It's been on her heart to start this cemetery," he says. "She believes every baby deserves a burial, a name."

Meanwhile, antiques booth proprietor Debbie Fleming -- who sets up inside Trestle Side -- uses part of the proceeds from the sale of her artwork to help victims of abuse and people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The money buys supplies for her art classes, which are attended by people suffering from PTSD.

Fleming calls her antiques booth God Oddities Off The Wall Décor and her artwork God oddities.

Among her God oddities are birdhouses, chairs, tables, coat racks and signs. Cups, plates, doorknobs, silverware, ties and door hinges also find themselves used in her work.

"They've called me Dumpster Debbie for years," she says.

The Mays purchased the business in December, but the ministry for all three has been going on for years.

Fleming, who says she was abused in a prior marriage and now suffers from PTSD, feels called to use her talent to help others.

She says on her Facebook site: "I heard God say, " 'You have my eyes. Through your art, you see what the world threw away and take it and turn it into a beautiful treasure, and that's what I did through you, so share what I've given to you.' "

Fleming, 41, says she's been involved with art all of her life but only began to do it as a therapeutic exercise after her previous marriage ended 17 years ago.

"My prayer over my ministry," she says, "is that through my art people will see the purpose God has for them [and] realize they can be victorious and not victims."

When Fleming's not creating, she might be helping counsel veterans at the Chattanooga Veterans Center, working with women in halfway houses or teaching life skills at the YMCA. In all three places, she says, her goal is to get participants to look at life in a different way as they look at themselves in a different way.

That's especially true for PTSD, which her current husband, a major in the Army, also has, Fleming says.

"They come back [from postings] with the feeling of: Where do I belong?," she says. They may have a damaged feeling that they don't know how to deal with, with a "terror that is very real."

"I try to help them relax," she says, work on the creation of art "and focus on the positive of things."

Andrea May, her husband says, became passionate about the baby cemetery and headstone ministry after a woman at their church lost a child at birth and, they later learned, couldn't afford a headstone. The idea has taken shape over a number of years, John May says, but it moved into a higher gear over the last several years with the creation of the nonprofit.

Like Fleming, Andrea May, who also has an accounting business, creates items from found objects. She, for example, creates wind chimes from old tins, forks and spoons, and also makes fan pulls and drawer pulls from salt and pepper shakers. In addition, she produces flower yard art from plates, saucers and candle holders that are placed on a rod.

A portion of the proceeds from sales go into the cemetery fund, he says

John May says there are no immediate plans for the cemetery, but "once we get a good down payment, we'll look at the land available."

A couple of people have offered plots, he says, but there is no hurry. He says they'd prefer the cemetery be in North Georgia.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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