The R. Tait McKenzie Sculpture Collection consists of more than one hundred bronze statuettes, bas-reliefs, medals, portrait medallions and plaques, all dealing with athletes or athletics. The collection was originally displayed in a gallery in the Health and Physical Education (HPER) Building in rooms and cases designed by Malcolm Rice, UT architect. The collection was formally dedicated on November 3, 1973. The collection and its specially designed cases moved to the Thornton Center when that facility opened. In 2011 the Thornton Center made renovations that necessitated the removal of the display, and the collection is now a part of the holdings of the McClung Museum.
The collection was assembled over a 25-year period by Dr. Joseph B. Wolffe of Germantown, Pennsylvania, who was one of the founders and the first president of the American College of Sports Medicine. Through the generosity of his daughter and her husband, Dr. and Mrs. Robert Colcher, the collection is permanently housed at UT. Dr. Andrew Kozar, professor and head of men’s physical education, was instrumental in obtaining the collection and served as its original curator.
Tait McKenzie was born in Almonte, Canada, in 1867 and earned the MD degree from McGill University in 1892. After working some years in different positions, he returned to McGill, where he became medical director of physical education. In 1904 he moved to the University of Pennsylvania. With his work as a sculptor, he soon gained international recognition. McKenzie belonged to the school of sculptors who were interested in anthropometry (measurement of the human body) and, with those measurements, finding the ideal athlete in various sports. He created four hundred sculptures during the course of his career. He also created numerous medallions used to honor athletes and others. Although his works encompass more than athletics, he came to be known as the “sculptor of athletes.”