Did You Know? A Symbol of Excellence

At the corner of Bates and Bertner Avenues in the Texas Medical Center stands a large granite sculpture with a familiar form. Its smooth, deep-red curves evoke the stylized heart recognized worldwide as the Texas Heart Institute logo. We see this emblem in print and online, on lab coats and badges, on conference room walls and lecture slides, and on lapel pins proudly worn. It is fittingly called A Symbol of Excellence.

Dedicated on March 16, 1977, the sculpture serves as a lasting monument to THI’s commitment to excellence in health care, research, and education. It was created by local artist Theodore (Ted) McKinney (1918-1983) in gratitude for the care that he and his daughter had received as Dr. Cooley’s patients. Crafted from red and black granite, the heart with its base stands seven feet tall and weighs 6,700 pounds. The monument originally stood at the entrance to THI at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, where it was the centerpiece of a flowered courtyard dedicated to Dr. Cooley’s parents. The sculpture was moved to its present location in front of the Denton A. Cooley building before it opened in 2002.

Interestingly, Ted McKinney was a successful businessman who did not become a serious sculptor until after he retired in 1975. After graduating from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania in 1941, he spent several years in the US Navy, where he developed an interest in abstract and natural forms—especially those found in driftwood—and took up sculpting as a hobby. Only after he had retired was he was finally able to pursue sculpting to his heart’s content.

The influence of driftwood is readily apparent in the elegant curvature of A Symbol of Excellence. McKinney brought his design to life by first creating a full-scale model from polyurethane foam and fiberglass. Although he typically worked in bronze, he felt that red granite would imbue the heart with the warmth and color that he envisioned for it. Once the red granite was located, McKinney visited the quarry, bringing along his model and the templates for the artisans who would hew the granite from the surrounding rock and begin shaping it. The graceful curves and final polish were achieved through tedious application of water and abrasive materials. It took McKinney and his team four months to complete the heart. A simple black granite base completed the monument. McKinney himself directed its installation at THI (photo).

A Symbol of Excellence as sculpture and emblem is a visual reminder of THI’s dedication to its mission of reducing the devastating toll of cardiovascular disease.

Women’s Center Ambassador, Payton Campbell at the Texas Heart Institute outside of THI Administration.


Images: Ted McKinney directs the placement of A Symbol of Excellence on March 16, 1977, the day of the sculpture’s official dedication. A Symbol of Excellence in its current location, in front of the Denton A. Cooley Building.