Upon first glance, Melanie Hatfield’s kitchen is what you’d expect from a working mom of two: well-stocked, lightly decorated, a baby doll sitting casually on the table with a grotesque, agape mouth of hyper-realistic human teeth replacing its face.
Well, mostly what you’d expect.
Upon closer inspection of her Westminster home, it’s clear that Melanie is an artist with a love for horror, and her dark creativity has been brewing since she was a teen.
“I went through a lot of that teenage angst,” Melanie laughed. “It’s a stage I hit and never kind of grew out of. I’m much happier now that I actually know what the purpose of it is, but with that being said, I started to reflect a lot of that in my art.”
After realizing she was pregnant right before turning 19, Melanie began the next chapter of her life as a mother. Soon enough, she was in her 20s, and her son Gavin was a child with a blossoming personality. That’s when Melanie noticed he stood out from other boys his age, gravitating toward feminine toys and media with a more fluid gender expression.
“I learned a long time ago that gender and sexuality are two different things,” Melanie said. “I never stopped him from doing what he wanted in terms of interests, because after a point, it didn’t matter to me.”
Melanie’s main concern with Gavin being genderfluid is fighting adversity in society. Part of the reason they currently live in Westminster was to switch school districts after Gavin struggled with bullying elsewhere. Melanie often found herself fighting with school authorities to allow Gavin to express himself the way he wanted, feeling they would usually concede to her requests out of convenience over actually accepting his identity.
“When it comes to my kid’s educational needs, I will always listen to the teachers, but when it comes to the actual identity aspect of my child, that’s totally different.”
Gavin, now 11, sits at the kitchen table beside his mother, dressed in a flat-billed hat, printed leggings, and a shirt with sparkly text: ‘There’s nothing wrong with you; There’s a lot wrong with the world you live in.’ He attends an arts integration school and said he is finally able to be himself in class.
“Every kid is just so nice,” Gavin said. “No one likes to bully; They are really bully intolerant.”
While promoting Gavin’s identity, Melanie’s artistry shifted over time. For most of her life, she had kept her work to herself rather than sharing with the public.
Removing her braces in 2017 was the catalyst. Instead of a cake or gift, Melanie requested a copy of her original teeth, which ended up in the face of the doll at the kitchen table. She initially set out to create props for a haunted house, but Melanie kept the ball rolling, though she didn’t fully know what she was doing.
As her collection grew, she branched out to Etsy, which then lead her to the Denver oddities shop The Room of Lost Things in early 2018.
She reached out over the phone and was met with hesitation, but that quickly dissipated after she sent over pictures of her dolls. The owners loved her work, and the once-covert artist now had a place to display her morbid creations for the public to take home.
Once she made the move, Melanie returned to normal life and waited nearly a full year until she finally followed up with the shop.
“I didn’t reach out to them for a few months out of the fear of hurting my soul a little,” Melanie said. “Finally, September rolled around; I reached out, was like, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you have any left over? You want me to come get my dolls?’ and she was like, ‘Actually, we sold out of them. Please make more.’”
The rest is history. Between her family and her full-time job in advanced computer engineering, Melanie cranks out her horrific creations as she’s able under the name Soylent Shenanigans. Putting on different thinking caps is often mentally enriching, but in dry spells of inspiration, Gavin’s creative mind comes to her aid. Melanie said he is her biggest supporter.
“He likes to give me his ideas. Sometimes I use them; sometimes I don’t. As artists, we have different eyes and directions, whatever else, but I don’t think anything would continue to grow the way it does without him and his support, realistically.”
Melanie’s artistry has allowed Gavin’s creativity to grow with hers. He took to drawing when he was younger, but as his mom gravitated toward her new, doll-centric delights, he was by her side, scavenging for new materials for his own pieces.
“This is one my grandma helped me make on my own sewing machine,’” Gavin said, as he showed a doll with a custom-sewn mermaid tale and delicately painted, aquamarine scales and hues across the body. “We’ll go to thrift stores so my mom can get baby dolls and things for her art, and I can get my things for my art.”
Melanie’s main goal is not to sell, but to share her ideas (and shock some people along the way). It is a form of expression that in turn helps her son embrace himself.
“The only thing you can do is just stand up and help [your kids] navigate through life and continue to teach people to love one another,” Melanie said. “It’s really a super-privilege to have had that thrown at me in life. I couldn’t be happier to be where I am.”
Gavin added, “Don’t hide yourself because you’re not like other people. Express yourself to other people, so other people will then express themselves. Then the world will be a better place.”
Melanie Hatfield sells her macabre dolls (complete with unique birth certificates) out of The Room of Lost Things, and you can find her more nerd-centric, wearable creations at Channel 3 Retro Gaming Center. Her freaky creations live online at facebook.com/soylentshenanigans and @soylent_shenanigans on Instagram.
All art provided by Melanie Hatfield