Stannard-based photographer Heather Gray recognizes spoof material when she sees it, and the idea of a sugar-shack spa proved irresistible. She and a couple female friends (who asked to remain nameless) spent a few scantily clad hours at Paul Bernheisel’s steamy maple operation in Morrisville to create this shot, titled “Redneck Spa,” which Gray sent to Seven Days.
Like a real spa, “It was really warm,” she says. “We were completely warm in our towels.” Beforehand, Gray notes, “We went out and collected all the [sap] with buckets, old style.” The women did not, however, try rubbing the sticky stuff on their skin.
With a body of narrative images in color and black-and-white, Gray has long made humorous hay from stereotypical gender roles, with a particular focus on motherhood and rural living. The former Virginian moved to Vermont nine years ago and earned a master’s in photography and film at Vermont College in 2005. Since then she’s exhibited regularly; a show last year at Red Square in Burlington titled “Dysfunctional Antics” featured shots of herself and her son that she staged at home. They were inspired by personal experiences, Gray says, and explored “notions of beauty, consumerism and the role of women in society.” She also has made greeting cards from five of her photos that sell “at random places” around central Vermont. Some of her images, she says, will be published in a forthcoming book titled Mothers in Contemporary Art, based on an exhibit in Columbus, Ohio.
Despite her academic description of her work, Gray’s pictures are often laugh-out-loud funny, with undercurrents of both feminism and sexuality; her imagined sugar-shack spa is one example. And, who knows, it may just suggest a long-overlooked opportunity for Vermont’s maple industry. Talk about seal of quality.