“Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. In this third world war, waged piecemeal, ... a form of genocide is taking place.” Pope Francis
Pope Francis’ words pierced Orangeburg resident Matthew Quay’s heart; it was a warning to not become a part of what the pope calls the “complicit silence” of many who hear of the crisis and do nothing.
Quay says he finds the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis and the general state of the world overwhelming at times.
He said he wondered what part he could play in making the world a better place. The answer came in September 2015 prior to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and before news reports of the Syrian refugee crisis began to flood the airwaves.
Quay wanted to help the Middle Eastern refugees by providing material assistance, but he wasn’t sure how to generate the funds to do that.
The answer came in the form of a paper clip — a “small, seemingly insignificant, item (used to) hold things together and to maintain some order,” Quay says.
“For years I have been straightening paper clips as a matter of maintaining focus in meetings,” said Quay, who works at Orangeburg’s Zeus Industrial Products. “If a paper clip was sitting on someone’s desk, I would straighten them and bend the wires.”
He said he eventually carried that habit to church in order to help him to pay better attention to the homily or sermon.
“If my hands are busy, I pay attention better,” Quay said.
In September 2015, he said he was sitting in Holy Trinity Catholic Church one Sunday and his hands started working on the paper clips — but this time with a purpose. He found himself forming the clips into the shape of a crucifix (a cross with the body of Christ).
“I made one and then I made another one,” Quay said. “I kept making more and more of them, and they kept getting better and better. I learned to do different things with them.”
He came to realize that what started out as a habit had become a bona fide work of art that could be sold. To this day, Quay says he doesn’t know how he obtained the skill to make the paper clip crucifixes, but he recognized it as a way to help the Knights of Columbus, a Christian fraternal organization, as it began doubling its efforts to help Christian refugees in the Middle East.
Seeing this opportunity, he sold his paper clip crucifixes at Holy Trinity Catholic Church’s bazaar in November. The bazaar raised a little over $2,000, with all proceeds going to the Knights of Columbus in support of persecuted Christians.
The crucifixes started off in simple designs consisting of only a handful of paper clips, but as Quay’s skill sets improved so did the ornamentation of the crucifixes.
The pieces range from a poorly defined body to a body nailed to the cross, with his later pieces that include visible lash marks. Quay said making the head and crown of thorns is the most difficult part of the work.
Initially, the crucifixes were four inches in length; today Quay makes some as long as 17 inches.
He said the 17-inch crucifix, which is fashioned with more than 200 paper clips, takes about 16 hours to make, while the smaller pieces take about four hours. Smaller crucifixes contain from 35 to 50 paper clips.
Quay estimates he has made well over 300 crucifixes.
In addition to the original pieces, he now adds crosses made of wood from olive trees from the Holy Land to some of his work. The corpus (the main part of the structure) is attached to the wooden cross, helping Quay expand the variety of crucifixes beyond paper clips. Along with a crucifix, buyers also receive a prayer card to pray for persecuted Christians.
Quay said the reaction to the crucifixes has been positive.
“The bazaar drove more sales and more requests,” he said.
For example, one woman has requested a crucifix with the base shape of an anchor, Quay said.
“People are asking for different things,” he added. “I learn new things from it. I know more about paper clips than probably anybody.”
The clips come in many colors including gold and copper.
“The more clips I find, the more combinations of use I have,” Quay said. “That drives the different styles.”