Woman Spends 14 Years with Mannequin Family, Proves Single People Can Be Happy Too

You would think that a woman living with a mannequin family has got to be some sort of weirdo. Contrary to that expectation, Suzanne Heintz comes across as fairly normal. As normal as an artist can be, that is.

Suzanne is an art director at Starz Entertainment Group in Englewood, Colorado. Every day for the past 14 years, she has been coming home from work to her unique family – her synthetic husband Chauncey and never-growing adolescent daughter Mary Margaret. Over the years, she has traveled 16,000 kilometers across America and all over the world, taking happy portraits with her plastic loved ones as a part of an art project called ‘Life Once Removed’.

Before the mannequins became a part of her life, Suzanne said she was routinely badgered with questions like, “When are you getting married?”, specially by her mother. “Nobody’s perfect,” her mother said to her about 15 years ago, “If you are going to get married, you’ll just have to pick somebody.” To which Suzanne replied, “Mom, it’s not like I can go out and buy a family and make it happen.” Or could she?


Photo: Suzanne Heintz/Life Once Removed

Later that night, as she was walking past a retail liquidation outlet, a row of mannequins on sale caught her attention. That’s when she realized, “I can buy a family!” And so began her whirlwind romance with the handsome Chauncey. Instead of going through the real thing, she decided to just photograph herself with the mannequins to see what it looked like. “If I have to go through the motions, this is what it is going to look like,” she said. “They are mannequins. The candy coated shell with nothing inside. We do all those family things, all the while capturing those Kodak Moments.”


Photo: Suzanne Heintz/Life Once Removed

If you look through some of the family portraits that Suzanne has created, you’ll see that her face is always full of joy. She really does seem to be enjoying the adventure, no matter how crazy it may look to some people. It’s like her own act of rebellion, like she’s telling the world exactly what she thinks of its customs and constraints that expect a woman to be married in order to be happy. “If I pass through life without checking off the boxes for a wedding ring and a baby carriage, I will be missing the photo album, but not the point. When I take my photos, others stop and stare, then they ask, ‘why are you doing this?’ They, at that moment, are starting to get the point too.”


Photo: Suzanne Heintz/Life Once Removed

And the ‘point’ that Suzanne is trying to make through her project is actually pretty deep – she wants to remind people that there is more than one type of American dream. That nobody has to live a life as dictated by society or prejudices. “Yes, I’m a grown woman playing dress-up and house,” she said. “But it’s all for a darn good reason. And it’s not because I need medication. It’s because I have the right to decide how my life looks. And you know what, so do you! Women’s lib was in the ‘70s. It’s the 21st century now and somehow, I’m still not right without a ring on my finger?”


Photo: Suzanne Heintz/Life Once Removed

“As women, we’ve never had more opportunity available. But look at all the mixed messages we get; we are constantly comparing the way our lives look to others. People expect me to be all wamp wamp, but you can be happy without all the stuff people think you need.” I personally agree with Suzanne, and I think the point she’s trying to make is very valid. Also, she sounds like she has a great sense of self-worth, which is very rare to find these days.


Photo: Suzanne Heintz/Life Once Removed

And taking all those pictures isn’t exactly an easy task. “If you think it’s hard travelling with your family, try travelling with a family of nude quadriplegics. It’s just short of torture. That’s okay, that’s what I signed up for. Part of the deal. Art shouldn’t be easy. It’s what separates my work from any other snapshot taken in front of the Eiffel Tower. Art is supposed to be hard. That’s what makes it worthy of your attention,” she said. She takes 300 to 500 shots per session, which can go on for hours

Suzanne said she receives mixed reactions from people about her work, especially when she tries to involve the public in her shoots. “I need the public for character and context, and I also invite people to ask questions about why I’m doing what I’m doing.” People are thrilled, shocked, or can’t stop laughing. Some of them are so taken aback that they just walk away from her.


Photo: Suzanne Heintz/Life Once Removed

If you’re wondering about Suzanne’s real love-life, well, it’s pretty normal. “I’ve had boyfriends my whole life,” she said. She just never felt that marriage was the way to go with any of them, not even her live-in boyfriend of the past seven years. Nonetheless, she’s planning to renew her vows with Chauncey in June. She is currently working with wedding planners to have a grand event with all the works – an officiated ceremony, live band, food and guests. Half the guest list is filled with mannequins of course, from the groom’s side of the family!


To find out more about Suzanne’s amazing work, you could check out her online portfolio or you could wait for the documentary coming out this month, called Playhouse.

Sources: Suzanne Heintz, Westworld

Posted in Art        Tags: , , ,