Back Where It All Began
Feb 01, 2018 02:19PM
Tucked in a cozy corner of Southlake’s new Unleavened Fresh Kitchen, Olivia Bennett Teeuws’ infectious smile speaks for itself. Her excitement to be back in Southlake, just steps from where she opened her first art gallery at age 14, radiates the room. “It’s surreal sitting in Southlake Town Square, all these years later,” Olivia says with a smile. For the past six years, she has been living in California, with a brief stent in Chicago, but is now back in Southlake…back to where her art career began.
A Healthy Escape from A.L.L. Leukemia
Olivia was always into art. Her creative side showed early as she would embellish coloring book princess dresses and shade brilliantly inside the lines. Her mother started entering her colorings and drawings in local contests for fun when Olivia was only 4 years old. But just a year later, that playful love would turn into a full-blown passion brought on by a serious diagnosis.
Just before entering kindergarten, Olivia went in for her routine well-check visit. Having recently relocated to Salt Lake City, her parents assumed Olivia’s recent fatigue was simply from her adjusting to her new life. But, her bloodwork told a different story. Within days, Olivia, age 5, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (AL.L.), a rapidly progressing cancer in which the bone marrow produces too many immature white blood cells preventing the body’s ability to fight infection. She immediately began chemotherapy. During that difficult time, her creative art process transformed from hobby to self-expression, budding a passion that would carry through her life to where she is today.
“It was an emotional outlet that I’d get completely lost in for hours. It was an escape, a form of communication,” describes Olivia of her dark days at home brightened by her lap desk, art supplies and pile of coloring books.
Art became a beautiful distraction from the pain and loneliness that cancer causes in even its youngest patients.
Southlake Becomes the Heartbeat of Her Career
In early 2000, three years into remission, her love for art remained. With renewed energy, her art began to grow in scale while continuing to spread the same bright message of peace and joy.
Olivia’s family relocated from Salt Lake City to Southlake where she enrolled in the fourth grade at Rockenbaugh Elementary School. She was sitting in art class, a day she clearly remembers, when the districtwide call went out in search for the student who could design the best T-shirt for Southlake’s inaugural Art in the Square. She was ecstatic to hear of the contest and immediately began a watercolor of Southlake’s trademark gazebo and fountain along 1709. When the contest ended, she received a call from Southlake Women’s Club that they loved her design, but it was simply too detailed to be put on the shirt.
Instead, they offered her a booth and gave her three months to prepare. The show was an instant hit. Her artwork received immediate attention, but there was one problem. No one believed Olivia was the artist. At first, Olivia’s mother decided to hide out behind the booth to make sure Olivia received attention as the artist, but then, something even better dawned on Olivia.
“Why not do a live painting so everyone can see that I really am the artist,” thought Olivia. So that is exactly what she did, drawing an enthusiastic crowd, impressing not just the adults, but her classmates too. As the weekend came to a close, Olivia had sold 24 paintings, taking home $1700. As a fourth grader.
She was hooked.
From Art in the Square to Oprah
Right then and there in the heart of Southlake Town Square, Olivia’s career planted its roots. She began to travel to art shows around the state, and, by age 12, she had written and published her very first art book. The local press had picked up on her talent calling her a “child prodigy,” “artist extraordinaire” and “entrepreneur,” but the biggest break of all came when Olivia Bennett’s name landed in front of Oprah Winfrey.
It was 2002. She was 12 years old, her hair was bright blonde, and she found herself standing back stage, face to face with an incredibly nervous Josh Groban. The episode, “Young People with Extraordinary Talent,” turned out to be such a highly rated episode, it was aired a subsequent three times sending Olivia into a tailspin of media each and every time. She went on to meet President George W. Bush and appeared in dozens of publications ranging from Teen People to Southern Living.
Art became Olivia’s life and she found it painful to do anything else.
Opening Her First Gallery at Age 14
As an 8th grader at Dawson Middle School, Olivia had officially gained the status of successful artist and businesswoman; all achieved without a road map, without a formula…just a passion. It was then that a friend suggested to her she should open up a space to sell her art. She had gained confidence citywide, and that confidence in her couldn’t have been any clearer than when the late Brian Stebbins offered her a six-month lease in town square. On December 8, 2004, with the full support of her family, friends and the city of Southlake, she moved in to her new space, 100 percent self-funded, opening her very own art gallery to the public.
“I didn’t start out saying, ‘I’m going to be a professional artist.’ Instead, I just followed my passion,” says Olivia as she reflects on this life-changing achievement at such a young age. “The root of it has always been just doing what you love.” Passion is what has always set Olivia apart.
From here, Olivia’s life took on a new challenge: finding balance. Her art career was in full-swing and so was her academic life. She turned to homeschooling so she could travel for art shows, work in her gallery and continue to paint. Over the next five years, her success kept growing. She continued doing what she loved, graduated high school, eventually moved her art gallery to a new location and added teaching art classes to her repertoire.
Growing Outside of Art
It was there in that second gallery on a cold, December day that she met her husband, John Teeuws. After seeing him walk through her gallery door, she instantly smacked her mother on the arm and whispered, “There is something special about that guy.” And there absolutely was.
A year and a half later, they married in Santa Fe, New Mexico and headed west for his career. It was her journey in California that led to finding herself in so many new ways. “All fell into place here, doing what I love, working with charities and giving back,” Olivia says of her memories that birthed her new passion: painting for charity. She also discovered a love for design as they gutted and remodeled their 1960s bungalow, only to turn around and repeat it again after work called them to Chicago.
In January of 2015, John and Olivia welcomed an adorable, blue-eyed little boy to the world. Being a mother became one of the most precious gifts and hardest job Olivia’s ever been given. After a cold Chicago winter, the Teeuwses headed back to California, where they have been for the last two years.
Last summer, John was offered the opportunity to return to the Dallas area and the Teeuwses could not get here fast enough.
“When I left Southlake, I realized there was so much about it that I took for granted. Relocating was a big adjustment,” says Olivia. While she has loved everywhere she has had an opportunity to live, there really is no place like home. And to Olivia, home is synonymous with Southlake.
“Southlake has such heart. Despite its growth, it maintains a small-town, village mentality where people genuinely care for and take interest in one another,” Olivia shares of moving home. “Southlake really sets itself apart from other places due its emphasis on family values, school pride, hospitality and the philanthropic heartbeats of the residents. It is the perfect place to raise a family. My heart has never left Texas,” says Olivia.
Painting for Charity
Now back where her heart belongs, Olivia has found herself on her best mission yet. “Everything in my life is rooted back to art. This is something I love, what I want to do,” Olivia shares. Looking back over the last two decades, Olivia credits her success to the grace of God. Even as a young girl going through chemo, she prayed. She didn’t always know to whom she was praying, but she felt God working. At 28, Olivia wants to do something positive with these divine blessings. In efforts to give back, Olivia focuses on painting for charity to raise money for those causes close to her heart.
She is creating partnerships with local and national organizations to use her love for “live” painting to inspire, encourage, fundraise and give back. Painting on stage gives Olivia a rush, “I come alive, I paint better. It takes it to another level. The music, talking to people, it’s a great experience, full of making connections and connections are what it is all about.”
Olivia’s only been back in Texas for a few months and she has already made her mark through her talent, partnering with Jewel Charity, who fundraises for Cooks and Make-A-Wish North Texas. In addition to her philanthropic efforts, Olivia is teaching art to teenagers and adults locally as well as hosting online tutorial sessions.
Living with Passion
At a young age, art became Olivia’s passion. A passion that brought light when darkness obscured. Twenty-three years later and Olivia is still chasing that same light in which gave her so much strength, even on days when she had little strength remaining. Looking back, Olivia calls her cancer treatment “a blessing in disguise.” She says, “It is a horrific diagnosis for any parent to hear, but there is always a silver lining.”
Olivia’s silver lining sparkles with inspiration, hard work and divine success.
And when asked if she had any advice for young cancer patients, her eyes twinkled as she shared, “This is just a short chapter of pain, but there is so much opportunity for a beautiful and full life ahead. Don’t lost hope. Keep a picture in your mind of your next chapter and keep moving forward.”