Margaret Roleke and Martha Willette Lewis

For There is Always Light

Margaret Roleke and Martha Willette Lewis
Thoughts and Prayers

Thoughts & Prayers is a collaborative outdoor installation by artists Margaret Roleke and Martha Willette Lewis, addressing gun violence in America. It was on display outdoors at Five Points Art Center in Torrington, CT in the fall of 2023. The piece made its debut in the fall of 2022 on Governor’s Island, NYC where hundreds of visitors interacted with it. Margaret & Martha’s goal is to have Thoughts & Prayers incite better conversations about our collective relationship to weapons and violence in the United States.

The large, cruciform structure was built by Roleke who threaded, then wrapped dozens of used shotgun shells around the armature, to create a colorful, texturally rich take on the Christian cross. The prayer flags were made by Lewis, using crowd sourced tee shirts hand cut and stenciled with her custom messages. Every flag contains human DNA, signs of wear, and a past as the covering on a human torso. They act as fluttering surrogates, protesting and bearing witness to each weaponized incident. Similarly, Roleke’s shells- sourced from various rifle ranges- bear the marks of human touch and interaction. They are often bent and misshapen by use and, like Lewis’ flags, appear in a candy-colored array, giving the work a polychromatic, full-spectrum presence, further evoking the vivid diversity of us, here in the USA.

Two lines of prayer flags extend from the shoulders of the sculpture. Traditionally, Prayer flags are hung outside in the Himalayas to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetan Buddhist culture believes that the prayers will be blown by the wind to spread these characteristics out into the world, for the benefit of everyone. As they weather and age, new ones are hung to purify the air with their messages. The Latin Cross is a religious symbol echoing the human body, and redolent of the pain and suffering of Jesus Christ. Once an instrument for public torture, it is now commonly used as a grave marker, and as a somber symbol of piety by Christians. Thoughts & Prayers is a sentiment frequently issued by public figures wishing to signify piety and concern while also signaling an unwillingness to act on gun-control.

Roleke & Lewis believe in and respect the power inherent in images and symbols. Thoughts & Prayers is a gesture towards bringing people of all faiths and belief systems together in the common goal of addressing gun violence.


About the Artists

Margaret Roleke is a sculptor and mixed media artist based in Easton, CT., and Brooklyn. Much of her work deals with important social issues including gun violence. She currently has several large-scale outdoor sculptures on view in New England including: The Norwalk Art Space and at AirPort in Kingston, NY. Roleke’s work has been exhibited widely in galleries and museums.

Martha Willette Lewis is a visual artist whose practice intersects science, technology, history, and human knowledge. Her recent projects tackle such topics as Quantum Physics, The Climate Crisis, Politics, Misogyny and Memory. Lewis’s work has been exhibited widely in galleries and museums in the USA and Europe. She has works on paper at Central Booking Gallery, Planthouse Gallery and the Pierogi Flatfile, all in New York.