Art exhibition pays tribute to frontline healthcare workers

Central Florida artist and Orlando Health team member uses pyrography to create 13 portraits of hospital workers, promoting positivity and healing in a year of uncertainty.

Orlando, FL (June 7, 2021) – Nelson Cárdenas has already received acclaim for his art. However, the self-taught artist who is a prep cook at Orlando Health Dr. P. Phillips Hospital recently embarked on another project to promote positivity and healing during the COVID-19 pandemic, for which he’s now receiving a different type of praise.

Tonight, an exhibition of Mr. Cárdenas’ portraits of hospital staff who provided care to COVID-19 patients during the pandemic will open at the Orange County Regional History Center in downtown Orlando. Titled Healthcare Heroes: Portraits of Orlando Health’s Frontline Workers, the group of thirteen large, stunning portraits by the Central Florida-based artist will be displayed in the museum’s atrium through August 15. His artwork honors and provides an intimate look at the community’s frontline healthcare staff who have worked tirelessly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re thrilled to feature these beautiful pieces of art that illustrate the tremendous impact and sacrifices of healthcare workers, especially from Nelson’s first-hand experience working at Orlando Health Dr. P. Phillips,” said Pamela Schwartz, executive director of the Orange County Regional History Center. “Our added oral histories of these healthcare heroes will speak to the story of the COVID-19 pandemic for years to come.”

OHDPH Nelson Cardenas

(c)Nelson Cárdenas holds photos of two persons portrayed

Early in the pandemic, in May 2020, Mr. Cárdenas created six of the 13 portraits that exist today. The initial pieces were installed on a fence near the entrance to the emergency department at Orlando Health Dr. P. Phillips where he has worked for almost seven years. According to Mr. Cárdenas, he felt a need to recognize healthcare workers. “These heroes have been on the frontlines like warriors, battling to help their communities recover and stay safe,” he said. “These are unprecedented times and as artists we possess a gift that can help ease anxiety and bring a positive light to this pandemic.”

The 13 portraits that are being displayed include images of an infectious disease physician, a chaplain, a respiratory therapist, a patient food attendant, housekeepers, and nurses working in units that provide direct care to COVID-19 patients—such as the emergency department, intensive care, and acute respiratory units. The majority of the individuals work at Orlando Health Dr. P. Phillips, which is located in southwest Orlando, in close proximity to some of the area’s most popular tourist attractions.

“I am very proud of Nelson,” said Thibaut van Marcke, senior vice president, Orlando Health Southeast Region, and president of Orlando Health Dr. P. Phillips Hospital. “The last fourteen months, especially earlier on, proved to be challenging for our patients, their families and the team here at the hospital. With the tribute Nelson has created, and this meaningful collaboration with the Orange County Regional History Center, our community can feel some joy.”

The portraits were created using oil paints and a technique called pyrography, which utilizes blowtorches to burn marks on the plywood canvas.

About Orlando Health

Orlando Health, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, is a not-for-profit healthcare organization with $7.1 billion of assets under management that serves the southeastern United States.

Founded more than 100 years ago, the healthcare system is recognized around the world for its pediatric and adult Level One Trauma program as well as the only state-accredited Level Two Adult Trauma Center in Pinellas County. It is the home of the nation’s largest neonatal intensive care unit under one roof, the only system in the southeast to offer open fetal surgery to repair the most severe forms of spina bifida, the site of an Olympic athlete training facility and operator of one of the largest and highest performing clinically integrated networks in the region. Orlando Health is a statutory teaching system that pioneers life-changing medical research. The 3,200-bed system includes 15 wholly-owned hospitals and emergency departments; rehabilitation services, cancer and heart institutes, imaging and laboratory services, wound care centers, physician offices for adults and pediatrics, skilled nursing facilities, an in-patient behavioral health facility, home healthcare services in partnership with LHC Group, and urgent care centers in partnership with CareSpot Urgent Care. Nearly 4,200 physicians, representing more than 80 medical specialties and subspecialties have privileges across the Orlando Health system, which employs nearly 22,000 team members. In FY20, Orlando Health served nearly 150,000 inpatients and nearly 3.1 million outpatients. During that same time period, Orlando Health provided approximately $760 million in total value to the communities it serves in the form of charity care, community benefit programs and services, community building activities and more. Additional information can be found at, or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @orlandohealth.

About the Orange County Regional History Center:

The Orange County Regional History Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and a member of the American Alliance of Museums. The History Center, housed in a beautifully restored historic courthouse at 65 E. Central Blvd. in downtown Orlando, showcases the vast collection of the Historical Society of Central Florida and features four floors of permanent exhibits and also presents nationally important, limited-run exhibitions. For more information, please visit    

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