An Empty Place at the Table exhibit is a visual reminder of the deadliness of domestic violence and is a catalyst for social change.
An Empty Place at the Table:
- Honors the individual lives of those from Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties who were murdered in acts of domestic violence.
- Increases the understanding of the impact of domestic and sexual violence on families and communities.
- Seeks commitments from individuals, communities and authorities to actively work to end domestic and sexual violence against women and children.
An Empty Place at the Table carries out its goals through the organized and impassioned efforts of surviving family members and friends, advocates, and community members. Surviving family and friends create a table place setting to represent their loved one as a part of a public statement of loss and to seek social change.
The table image is a symbol and experience that is common to most victims of domestic homicide regardless of their social status, age, race, ethnicity, or other life experiences. Each of the victims had a place at the table in their homes as members of a family. Their murders leave an empty place at that table, and a symbolic empty place in society. Domestic violence homicide tragically changes the family table and the symbolic table in the community and society as a whole.
The exhibition and companion documentary film, An Empty Place at the Table, inspires community members to organize efforts to eradicate domestic and sexual violence within their own communities. Communities can replicate the exhibition to honor those who have been murdered in acts of domestic violence. The exhibit An Empty Place at the Table is a project of the Women’s Resource Center. It was created in 1993 and it points to the need to address systemic supports for violence as well as the personal impact of the violence.
The exhibit An Empty Place at the Table was born from a desire to grieve the loss and celebrate the lives of women and children who were killed in acts of domestic violence in Northeast Pennsylvania. In 1993, two women, Phyllis Mashie and Cindy Marshalek, and a child, Sheena Marie Jones, were killed within 22 days of each other as a result of domestic violence.
Sheena Marie Jones, 7, was raped and murdered in her bed the night of July 24 by her mother’s ex-boyfriend. Sheena’s mother had made him leave after he abused her. He had threatened to conduct a horrific act of revenge.
Cindy Marshalek was killed on August 15 by her abusive estranged husband. Cindy had filed for divorce on August 2 and her husband was served the divorce papers three days later. Her estranged husband murdered her and killed himself the next day.
Phyllis Mashie was murdered by her husband Gordon Mashie on August 8. Gordon Mashie stabbed her 191 times as her son watched the beginning of the assault. Gordon had been charged with raping Phyllis in late May and was imprisoned. On July 2, at a bail reduction hearing, the judge agreed to reduce bail from $50,000 to $25,000 and Mashie was released after posting $2,500. Despite a Protection From Abuse order, Gordon Mashie found a way to get to Phyllis.
Shortly after Phyllis Mashie was killed, friends and co-workers organized a rally at the county courthouse to protest the judge’s action in reducing Gordon Mashie’s bail. Friends and co-workers of Phyllis Mashie were joined by Women’s Resource Center staff and volunteers. That group of individuals continued to meet, to make sense of the violence and figure out how to respond to the senseless acts of violence that took the lives of these three community members. Peg Ruddy, Director of the Women’s Resource Center, and Jane Kopas, a volunteer, continued to explore the question of how to memorialize these victims. They recalled 14 additional women who had been murdered in the preceding four years.
An Empty Place at The Table draws its inspiration from Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, which represents women neglected in history, the Quilt Project, which memorializes victims of AIDS, and the book A Place at the Table by Edith Konecky, which examines mental illness and the systematic oppression related to the illness. The social issues addressed by these examples parallel the role that social and political systems play in the oppression of women and the need for family and friends to remember their loved ones. Inspired by these concepts and the image of an empty place created by domestic violence homicide, Jane suggested developing an exhibit of a table with personalized place settings for each victim. An exhibit titled An Empty Place at the Table was born.
An Empty Place at the Table premiered in October 1993 at the Lackawanna County courthouse. Tragically, domestic violence homicides continue to add place settings to the original Table. The exhibition has been duplicated by domestic violence centers throughout Pennsylvania, and has been exhibited elsewhere in the United States. Women’s Resource Center can be contacted to request a traveling exhibition or a kit to create your own An Empty Place at the Table exhibit.
The artwork, An Empty Place at the Table, is an original watercolor painted by artist Julia Valenza from Scranton, Pennsylvania. The artwork was commissioned in 1995 by the Women’s Resource Center to commemorate those slain in homicides related to domestic or sexual violence. The artist drew inspiration from the original table and created the image of a place setting that combined items from several of the place settings from the original table. Speaking about the process of creating the piece, Ms. Valenza said “I believe that visual images can have the power to transcend words and speak directly to the heart. The idea behind An Empty Place at the Table was to convey the terrible human cost of domestic violence. Putting that idea into visual terms was a great challenge and one I was glad to take on because I wanted to help increase the public’s awareness to this tragedy.”
An Empty Place at the Table is a 28-minute documentary film narrated by Academy Award winning actress Susan Sarandon. The film inspires communities to reach out to individual victims and to play a role in ending domestic violence. A reverence for domestic violence homicide victims is reflected through a production value that stresses substance, sensitivity, clarity, and credibility. The film provides knowledge that can inspire a coordinated community response that eradicates the causes of domestic violence.
An Empty Place at the Table documentary film was shown at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in April 2004 at the Village East Theatre. The documentary won an award for best social documentary film for the festival.
The concept for the documentary was developed over a period of two years. When the concept of the film was presented to the surviving family members, many of them chose to be interviewed. The film was produced by United Studios of America (USA). Academy Award winning actress, Susan Sarandon, and Scranton native, Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., then United States Senator (D-Delaware), and author of the Violence Against Women Act of 2000, collaborated with local filmmakers in the production of the documentary. Local and established musicians donated their talents to the film’s soundtrack.
Surviving friends and family members of the victims of domestic violence homicide
Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., then United States Senator (D-Delaware)
Susan Sarandon, Academy Award winning actress
Jill Miler, Board member of WRC
Women’s Resource Center Association
Murray and Goldye Weinberger
John Cosgrove, Lackawanna County Heritage Valley Authority
Thomas Curra and Gregory Matkosky, United Studios of America
Danielle Gangemi Memorial Fund
The Jane Kopas Women’s Center, The University of Scranton
Kathryn LeSoine, photographer
University of Scranton students in the Feminist Empowerment Group
Business sponsors and many community members who donated goods and services
An Empty Place at the Table exhibit and its companion documentary film is a valuable tool for communities to utilize to increase the understanding of the impact of domestic and sexual violence on individual lives, on their community, and on society as a whole. Community members and advocates have utilized the exhibit and documentary to inspire local action and to educate their community. The documentary film, An Empty Place at the Table, is available for public showing upon request to the Women’s Resource Center for a negotiable cost. The film has been shown for police recruitment trainings, college courses, community club meetings, state-wide association meetings, conferences, local clergy/faith leaders meetings, fundraising events, and more. Advocates and community groups have replicated the exhibit in their own communities. WRC has a handbook available to assist in the replication of the exhibit and a ‘Guide for Thought and Action’ that accompanies the documentary film to assist sponsors in their local production utilizing the film.
To host An Empty Place at the Table and order a Community Organizing package or a Community Education package contact WRC.
Requests for permission to use the concept, graphics, and other items, in addition to requests to purchase the film and accompanying materials, must be made in writing to the Women’s Resource Center located in Scranton, Pennsylvania.