DALLAS (CBS11) – North Texas is home to some world-renowned art collections, but it’s also home to a collection that may be different than anything you’ve ever seen before. And you don’t have to go to a museum to check it out. All you have to do is head to Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.
Behind the glass cases in the lobby of the George W. Truett Memorial Hospital at the Baylor University Medical Center complex are hundreds of hands– or more accurately– the bronze casts of hands belonging to some of the most popular and influential people in the world.
It’s the Hand Collection, and they’re all the work of retired hand surgeon and one-time chief of orthopedic surgery at Baylor, Dr. Adrian Flatt.
The current chief of orthopedics at Baylor, Dr. Jay Mabrey, recently gave CBS11 a tour of the collection.
“Dr. Flatt, who was probably one of the most preeminent hand surgeons in the world,” said Mabrey, “began casting the hands of children with congenital hand deformities so he could study their hands before they operated on them, and study their hands after. And he was also able to take those molds and those models to show to his students and fellows so he could pass those lessons on to future hand surgeons.”
He later got the idea to begin casting the hands of some of his fellow surgeons.
“I think he was looking to help classify the hands of the surgeon,” said Mabrey, “and as we talked about earlier, there isn’t necessarily one particular set of hands that do well as a surgeon.”
And from there, his collection evolved to include athletes, musicians, actors, artists, astronauts, and even presidents, dating back to Harry Truman.
“I think it shows such a wide variety of specialties and talent,” explained Mabrey. “And you can get a sense of maybe what makes them special, but you also realize that everyone’s hand is different.”
Dr. Flatt used the same type of gummy rosin to cast hands that dentists use to make impressions of teeth.
“Normally, when Dr. Flatt would do the cast, he would take one of his wife’s shoe boxes and, of course, destroy it by cutting a hole in it. You set your hand in it and it casts. But with Andre the Giant, he had to take a hat box and fill it with rosin,” says Mabrey.
And the impressions are near-perfect. So much so that on Walt Disney’s right hand, you can see in fine detail the Irish Claddagh ring he was known to wear.
Mabrey says the Hand Collection is, by far, the most popular site on campus.
“We have people here 24 hours a day who are visiting relatives,” he said. “They walk by, see the Hand Collection, and…just this morning there were another couple of people who were walking around, amazed at all of this. So we’ve done our best to keep it up, and hope to keep it going for many years after this.”
The Hand Collection has been at Baylor since 1982, when Dr. Flatt joined the medical center. At the age of 95, he’s no longer practicing medicine or making the bronze casts, but he still maintains an active presence at the hospital.
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