Dealing with dummies; Lania D'Agostino: Maryland Institute...


Dealing with dummies; Lania D'Agostino: Maryland Institute grad fixes up damaged store mannequins.

A reasonable first impression is that you've crashed an orgy: There are all those people standing there without a stitch on, and all so thin. Second thoughts suggest a battlefield hospital: The floor's lined with corpses, and body parts are strewn about.

But since the actual scene is in East Baltimore, both are probably unlikely.

Yet it is a hospital of sorts -- for mannequins. This is where those dummies they hang clothes on in department stories like Macy's and Hecht's are sent when injured. Lania D'Agostino, a wild-haired young woman, is the doc who patches them up, sends them back into service.

Ms. D'Agostino owns and runs Mannequin Service Co. out of a 4,000-square-foot loft in an old factory building in Canton, a space once home for several hundred pigeons. Ms. D'Agostino arrived a couple of years ago, evicted the pigeons and brought in about 300 mannequins. Many are under repair; many have come to the end of their useful lives. She has mannequins from the 1930s all the way up to the present.

Mannequins, like people, come in a variety of sizes, but of course there are no fat mannequins. They also change, as people do. "These days they are much taller," she said. "The men are at least 2 feet taller than they were years ago, the women about 3 feet."

Store dummies can be as abstract as coat hangers. These days, many are more realistic: they look like the girl or guy next door, naked. A few are almost anatomically correct.

Some mannequins elicit strange reactions. Ms. D'Agostino has a few from Italy that "make people nervous," she said. "They're put off because they only have half a head."

Ms. D'Agostino also does work for museums. She's been assigned to create models for a Smithsonian exhibit on the "Star Wars" movies.

She is also an artist, a graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art.

When she came to Baltimore from Michigan, just before the blizzard of 1983, she recalls people saying: "You've come from up north. It never snows here like it does up there." Her eyes shoot to the ceiling, as if she's thinking, "What dummies!" Ed Cohen has dedicated practically his entire life to education, from school-age children to college students to summer campers. Mr. Cohen has been at Maryland's Camp Airy and Camp Louise for the past 28 years. He has seen campers return as counselors and send their own children to camp.

As executive director of both camps, Mr. Cohen is busy with camp business throughout the year. Both are private, nonprofit organizations. Mr. Cohen spends most of his summer traveling between the two and visiting with the 400 children who come from across the country to attend the two- and four-week sessions. Although Camp Airy in Thurmont is exclusive to boys and Camp Louise in Cascade is restricted to girls, they are only 10 miles apart and campers have plenty of opportunities to socialize.

Mr. Cohen, who turns 69 this month, encourages campers to overcome shyness and participate in the many available activities.

The campers -- ages 7 to 17 -- have a variety of activities available to them, from making table centerpieces to playing lacrosse. Both camps have operated more than 70 years, but Mr. Cohen has kept them contemporary. For example, in-line skating is a sports option this summer.

"This is my life," says Mr. Cohen of the camps. He and his wife of 47 years, Phyllis, have three grown children, and this summer Mr. Cohen is excited about having his 7-year-old granddaughter attend Camp Louise for the first time.

Christie Santiago

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