Statue decorations milk lots of smiles


July 15, 2002|By Sue du Pont | Sue du Pont,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AS DISCREETLY as Edgar Allan Poe's secret admirer leaves roses and a bottle at the poet's grave or the "Hon Man" welcomes Interstate 295 drivers to Baltimore, a mystery benefactor occasionally adorns two Annapolis-area cow statues with beautiful hats.

On the morning after the July Fourth holiday, employees at the Maryland Department of Agriculture on Harry S. Truman Parkway noticed that the bovine admirer had struck again. Each of the concrete sculptures, which agency employees occasionally decorate, was decked out in straw hats with a red, white and blue motif and secured under the chin with white tulle.

"They must have done it on the Fourth because I'm pretty sure I saw the new hats when I came in on Friday," said Mary Januk, a department employee. "We have a phantom decorator."

The last time the anonymously placed decorations drew such delight from employees and passers-by was with the placement of flowered Easter bonnets atop the loppy-eared statues in the spring.

One neighbor saw the decoration process in action, but didn't know about the mystery and only caught a glance.

"It was a Sunday about noon in the pouring rain," said Lillian B. Wray. "There were two women. One was climbing up and adjusting the hat with great care. The other was giving direction."

Those bonnets were only just replaced with the patriotic chapeaux.

Ollie Miller of Lothian noted in a recent interview how much her husband enjoys seeing the cow statues as he drives down Harry S. Truman Parkway on his way to work.

"He really looks forward to seeing all the changes," she said. "He's always telling me I have to come by and see the change and I always try to. It's just a delight to drive by and see them."

The cow statues and a statue of Demeter, goddess of the harvest in Greek mythology, have graced the entrance of the department building since December 1987, a few years after the building was constructed. This was a time when a small percentage of budgets for state building projects was set aside for art.

Maryland artist Raymond Kaskey was commissioned to develop the art, which reportedly was made from a full body cast of a prize Carroll County Holstein cow.

Since their installation, the statues have proven to be immensely popular. "They've become part of the neighborhood," said Tony Evans of Annapolis, a department employee of 29 years. "Neighbors ... ask about the cows when we don't decorate them for a while or neglect to put a stocking cap on them for Christmas."

"They are so cute," laughed Erin Harrington when asked about the cows she passed regularly on the way from her Mayo home to work. "I think they are awesome."

A departmental committee organizes a cow-decorating competition during employee recognition week each September. "We've seen every incarnation from space cows and Chia Pet cows to Halloween cows," said Evans.

"We've had so many compliments from people in the community," said Darlene Athey, a decorating committee member. "It inspires us."

The County Department of Recreation and Parks, which occupies a building across the street and has a statue of two young athletes, provided a bit more inspiration for the state agency a couple of years ago.

County staff issued a decorating challenge when the Baltimore Ravens went to the Super Bowl. The agencies entertained each other, the neighbors and passing drivers with spirited Ravens-oriented decorations. Since then, there has been an unspoken competition. The parks department statue recently sported giant sunglasses for the summer.

Last fall, after the Sept. 11 attacks, the agriculture committee decorated the statues with a patriotic theme, rather than in the normal vein of employee-recognition week activities.

As to the identity of the anonymous decorator or decorators, who sometimes also rests a bouquet of flowers in Demeter's arms on May Day, there is speculation. Certain department employees are mentioned as suspects, as are residents of the nearby Heritage Harbor community.

Regardless, the work of the mystery benefactor and the more publicly known department-created decorations are enjoyed by all. Thanks to each of them for bringing a bit of cheer and pleasant intrigue to the community.

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