- Associated Press - Sunday, November 30, 2014

IVA, S.C. (AP) - The small shop where Barbara Campbell and Jean Fleming work smells of warm air and dust, but these two women have spent countless hours in their little shop in Fleming’s backyard.

“Time just slips away out here,” Fleming said. “We have spent hours and hours out here. Sometimes, my husband comes out here with my dinner.”

There is a large, slab roller in one corner. Wooden shelves line a couple of the walls. A small table sits in front of the shop’s one window, and a small, round wooden table in the middle of the shop takes up most of the room.

This is where these two women create the white porcelain, trimmed in gold, ornaments that tell the story that is most important to them: the story of Christ and salvation.

It is something that this veteran teacher and factory-floor worker never thought that they would be doing.

For 27 years, Campbell was a substitute teacher for Anderson School District 3. She helped with study hall and worked in the library at Starr-Iva Middle School and taught the 4-year-olds and the children in kindergarten at Iva Elementary School. Fleming worked for 37 years in the spinning room at Mohawk Carpets in Lowndesville.

The need for new ornaments on their church’s Christmas tree has led them into this completely unexpected mission.

Since 2004, when they went into business, they have made thousands of porcelain ornaments, most of them completely crafted by hand.

Smooth, shiny porcelain ornaments depicting the Nativity and other symbols of Christ - including the lamb, the fish and the cross - are laid out in box after box in the back room of a barbershop in downtown Iva.

This is the “showroom” for this small business named Divine Designs.

On tables and shelves are 89 different kinds of ornaments that Fleming and Campbell have made. Hundreds are on display, and at the shop in Fleming’s backyard dozens more are in various stages of being completed.

They are all based on images pulled from Scripture. All have been hand cut from porcelain clay, glazed and painted with gold.

“Every ornament is supposed to tell the story,” Campbell said. All of it is the result of what was meant to be a simple project, Fleming said, laughing.

In 1998, Fleming was a member of Good Hope Presbyterian Church, one of the two churches where she has worshipped most of her life. She noticed that the plastic foam ornaments that she and other ladies at the church had made and remade for the church’s Christmas tree were looking a bit tattered.

Every few years, they would remake the ornaments, all in the shapes of Christian symbols, using plastic foam and beads. But because the plastic foam was not very durable, they would break or need repairing.

After talking to members of the church, Fleming said she looked for ornaments that were similar to what they had, only more durable.

She could not find anything in the stores. But Fleming said she found what they were looking for when she attended a service at First Presbyterian Church in Anderson.

Fleming learned that the ornaments on the tree at the church in downtown Anderson were made with the help of one of the church’s members, Kathy Roser. They were made using molds, and then were fired in a kiln and painted.

“You had to use rolling pins to roll the clay into these molds,” Fleming said. “And it scared me to death. I thought, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’”

Campbell and Fleming laugh at this memory, and both women claim not to be artistic.

The fear of tackling the unknown kept Fleming from moving forward with the project for about a year.

But by January 2000, five of the women from Good Hope Presbyterian Church were working to make these new porcelain ornaments for their church’s Christmas tree. Campbell and Fleming were among the five.

For three months, three of the five women took classes from Roser at First Presbyterian.

“We owe Kathy a great debt,” Fleming said. “We could not have done this without her. And she would not take any pay.”

When the tree was set to go up in the Iva church’s sanctuary, the five women had made 200 ornaments to go on it.

“Oh, Lord, it was fun,” Campbell said about the project.

Soon, word spread about those ornaments on the tree at Good Hope Presbyterian. The pastor at the Bethel United Methodist Church in Iva asked for a set in 2002. Then a church in Greenwood wanted a set.

The ornament makers needed to move out of their church’s Sunday school room and into the little shop in Fleming’s backyard. Then, eventually, they expanded into the barber shop in Iva, where Campbell’s husband worked until he died about six years ago.

They have made ornaments for people and churches all across South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. That happened just through word of mouth, Campbell said. The two women didn’t launch their website until this year.

“It has been a blessing to me,” Campbell said. “It helps me because I feel like I have something to do that is worthwhile.”

Plus, it is fun.

Because while they are shaping that clay with their hands, they are laughing, talking or sometimes just sitting in companionable silence. Every once in a while, they receive a care package from a church who has ordered from them.

Like the church in Duluth, Georgia, that sent them a box full of sweet pears.

“We really want to make something that is worthy,” Campbell said. “And then, we, in turn, get to see all of these people from different churches who are so dedicated. Some of them don’t have much, but they love the Lord. So working in this shop, it is like a medicine for me.”

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Divine Designs of Iva: ivinedesignsiva.com

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