The Art of Healing

Major collection of women’s art coming to Northwell Health facilities

| 25 May 2021 | 10:35

Collectors Sandra and William Nicholson spent 30 years collecting and preserving the work of women artists from around the world. Their gaze was expansive – they even found a woman artist during a trip to Antarctica – but their focus was precise. Only women artists made it into their “Women Who Dared” collection. Museums made overtures hoping to exhibit them, but instead, the Nicholsons worked with Northwell Health to share their discoveries and treasures with patients, families, health care workers and the community.

“Art has been shown to heal, inspire and bring joy, and we believe it has the greatest impact in a health care setting where it can nurture patients and motivate staff,” said Sandra Nicholson. In an event at Lenox Hill Hospital on May 19, she spoke of how the collection evolved and why she and her husband chose to share it this unconventional way.

After acquiring the collection and living with them in their home, she and her husband felt, “They [the works of art] needed to go to work,” Nicholson said. “They can help inspire and educate. Education and health care are incredibly important to us. If they’re in a hospital where they could promote healing, and wellness and calm and hope,” she said, “that’s a really wonderful outcome.”

Though the works will be exhibited in medical facilities, the journey started in some of Europe’s great museums. Nicholson recalled a trip to the Prado Museum where the couple viewed hundreds of artworks. At the end of the day they asked a guide if there were any works by women to see. It turned out, after a series of phone calls, that, at that time some thirty years ago, there were three works by women artists in the collection. One was in the basement. One was undergoing restoration, and the third, no one could locate. “We wanted to know why,” she said. “We decided that we would take this on out of curiosity.” The search led to the knowledge of how extremely under-represented women artists are in museums and galleries around the world.

“Chorus of Voices”

Now, dozens of original paintings, drawings and sculptures are on display at Northwell. Reproductions and projections fill waiting rooms. There’s a monthly competition of artworks honoring nurses, and an online gallery featuring works accompanied by video talks by accomplished actresses, musicians and women authors. It’s all about bringing what Nicholson calls the “chorus of voices” of female artists to the forefront, and at the same time extending the power of art to patients and staff.

Twenty-three works will be in Northwell’s Manhattan campuses including Lenox Hill Hospital, Lenox Health Greenwich Village and Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital. Others will be in Northwell’s Long Island facilities. “New York is the most diverse city in the world, and we’re proud of the fact that we have a very diverse collection,” Nicholson said, noting that Northwell is particularly devoted to women’s healthcare. “We knew immediately that this is where we should be.”

With works as varied as a terracotta female Falasha head made in Ethiopia in about 600 BC and a charcoal portrait of John F. Kennedy by Elaine de Kooning (with an accompanying narration from actress Carol Burnett that’s a gem on its own), there’s an enormous wealth of art and information available. “Each one has something important to say, something to teach us all,” said Nicholson.

The plan is that eventually, all 400 works in the Nicholsons’ “Women Who Dared” collection will be installed at one of Northwell’s facilities. For Pride Month, Lenox Health Greenwich Village will present works by LGBTQ artists from the collection. Some works will stay in place, others will be rotated, but the “Women Who Dared” will remain on view at Northwell indefinitely. Said Nicholson, “It’s 2500 years of women’s work, of women’s art, women’s culture, women’s history.”

For more information and to see the works, go to