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Paint by Numbers

Olivia Bennett paints four or five hours a day at her Southlake gallery, then it's off to homeschooling. In just a few hours, Olivia can turn out a 15-by-15-inch painting, which she'll sell for several hundred dollars.

Olivia Bennett's angled brush slides effortlessly across the textured paper, trailing hot pink paint. A sliver of long blond hair falls in front of her eyes, and she pushes it behind her ear, keeping the brushstroke steady all the while. The 14-year-old sits back on her stool, eyeing the watercolor fuchsias on the page critically and comparing her painting with a reference photograph, tilting it, making sure the tones match.

Flanked by primary-colored scribbles given to her by young fans as well as her own prolific work, images of vividly shaded flowers, Olivia paints directly from the showroom of her own gallery in Southlake. She lacks the typical teenage slouch, her shoulders poised even as she leans in close to her palette, hovering above just the right shade of blue.

Across the room, 9-year-old Sarah, Olivia's youngest sibling, pounds away at the keys of a sleek black computer. She has made it her personal mission to interrupt the museum-like calm of the gallery, where the lightest footstep causes a hollow echo on the wood floor. She chatters away about potential names for a new pet.

"Mom, how do you spell 'Raptora'?"

"Any way you want, sweetie," Michele Bennett answers, distractedly spelling out R-A-P-T-O-R-A before asking Olivia if she remembers when last week's employee hours were called in. Michele, with a youthful figure and highlighted hair, looks sophisticated even in jeans--the kind of woman who is clearly more "mom" than "mother." She has the PR thing down pat: Visitors are greeted with her best stage-mom smile and given tours and business cards. Michele bounces between Olivia's studio area and a countertop covered in paperwork, leaving Sarah to her own devices as she tries to keep her oldest daughter's business running smoothly.

Today Olivia will work four or five hours in the suburban-swank Southlake Town Square, working on paintings and entertaining the customers and admirers who come in to view her artwork. Then it'll be off to homeschooling. After she finishes science, English, math and social studies homework, she'll try to get in eight or 10 hours of sleep before she wakes up tomorrow to do it all over again.

It's another day in the life of Southlake's own child artist, a girl whose one-time agent breathlessly compared her to a young Georgia O'Keeffe. Three years ago Olivia joined the small group of visual art "prodigies" discovered in their early teen and preteen years by a California agent named Benjamin Valenty, who specializes in marketing the youngsters. Packaged with a poignant backstory and possessing unusual artistic ability for her age, Olivia was the ideal subject for the kind of family-friendly media hype created by appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. "I just love painting flowers," she says.

If only it were that simple.

The child-prodigy business paid off well for both Valenty and the Bennetts. Able to turn out a 15-by-15-inch painting in just a few hours, Olivia's not exactly a human assembly line, but pretty close. Olivia will price work that size at several hundred dollars, depending on how much she likes it. A larger canvas could list for more than $6,000. And then there are limited-edition prints that sell for hundreds. Valenty claims to have paid the Bennetts $240,000 in royalties over a 22-month period beginning in late 2001. But pulling in that kind of money can come with a price--in this case, lawsuits.

While Olivia seems more than content to paint her flowers, Valenty has accused the Bennetts of forcing their child into a life of "indentured servitude"--and it really only gets nastier from there, according to statements made by Valenty in court documents, in which he repeatedly calls them "consumed with greed" and "self-dealing." Demanding independent legal representation for Olivia, Valenty has alleged that the Bennetts intentionally swindled their daughter out of tens of thousands of dollars, what he constantly refers to as Olivia's "hard-earned money." Olivia's parents, of course, see things much differently, and their attorney says the allegations "are completely without basis in fact."

Matt and Michele Bennett contend in court filings that Olivia's former agent was dishonest and unscrupulous. They accuse him of concealing a "remarkably poor reputation" and inducing them to enter into a contract with him based entirely on "false statements." Apparently he'd neglected to mention anything about the coin-collecting business he'd bankrupted in the early '90s or his 1997 Federal Trade Commission ban from any telemarketing activity. The Bennetts also allege that an initial claim on Valenty's part--that he'd pre-sold 15 of Olivia's paintings--was merely a ploy to get their signature on the dotted line.

The battle started simply enough. In August 2003, the Bennetts wanted out of their two-year-old management contract with Valenty, and he agreed to a split. Except nobody could seem to agree on how much money Valenty still owed the Bennetts, or vice versa. Cue the legal three-ring circus of lawyers, accountants and settlement offers. Eventually, the Bennetts would decide to sue Olivia's former agent over a disputed grand total of $14,339.29. Valenty countersued in October and made a variety of disparaging allegations, asserting that the family had purchased a pickup truck and gone on freewheeling shopping sprees with "their own daughter's hard-earned money."

 

The Bennetts' lawyer has confirmed that Valenty and his clients have "compromised and settled all their respective claims" but are not allowed to disclose the terms of the settlement. The Bennetts, in fact, are more than anxious to put the entire issue behind them. Michele calls any further dwelling on the case "beating a dead horse."

Barely even a teenager, a year away from anything resembling a drivers license or even high school, Olivia's future seems uncertain. She says that local collectors are buying her work, but clearly the media hype has dwindled since the days of Oprah appearances and Teen People features. One of her most recent television appearances was in June on the Home Shopping Network, and two separate visits revealed a gallery far from overrun with customers. But it's a tough thing to ask a kid: Have you peaked at 14? Is it all downhill from here?

Something has to change if Olivia is to maintain her success. That means branching out from her trademark flowers, and she knows it.

Happily churning out paintings in her gallery, Olivia isn't in any hurry to tamper with her oeuvre. "I don't know," she says, musing about her flowers. "I just can't seem to get away from them."


Olivia was 5 years old the first time her artistic abilities caught her parents' eyes. They say her coloring books were noticeably lacking in one significant aspect: the jagged, untamed scribbles of a 5-year-old unleashed upon a box of Crayolas. Michele was quick to encourage her daughter's talent, buying her more books and art supplies to explore her skills.

"I'd draw animals, mostly, and birds," says Olivia, who particularly remembers a favorite Cinderella coloring book. To Michele and Matt's horror, however, their fairy tale-loving daughter was about to enter into something more akin to a nightmare. She was diagnosed that same year with leukemia.

The path between the Bennetts' Sandy, Utah, home and the hospital was a well-worn one, with Olivia being taken in frequently over the next two years for chemotherapy and painful examinations. When nothing else could comfort her, she turned to drawing and painting.

"It was a release. I didn't have to think about going in to get a spinal tap the next morning," Olivia says, recalling the experience from an oversized couch in the back of her gallery. "I think I've blocked a lot of it out. It was very painful."

Painting flowers became a form of physical therapy when nerve damage left her fingers curled and stiff. First painting a basket of flowers her mom had bought at the grocery store, she immediately took to the imagery. "It's something about the colors. I painted one, and I was just in love," she says. Her hands eventually healed, and at 7, Olivia's doctor said her body was finally cancer-free. With her health improved, Olivia spent even more time on her flowers, and her artwork began to turn into more than just a hobby.

A family friend who was especially taken with a painting of tulips she'd seen while visiting the Bennetts' home bought the picture on the spot for $50. Olivia won a stamp design contest in Utah, and when her family moved to Texas in 1999 because of her father's work, she got her first significant break. Though her art won the annual T-shirt design contest for Southlake's Art in the Square exhibition, judges told her it was too colorful to be able to reproduce on a shirt.

"I asked them if they'd let me have a booth in the fair instead, and they agreed," Olivia recalls. She sold 24 paintings that day, the most expensive going for about $300. The 10-year-old loved taking her canvases to the fair and painting for the attendees. She would sit and chat about her work, enjoying every minute spent getting to know the crowd.

"I'd just start bawling when it was over because I didn't want to wait another year for the next show," Olivia says. She was ready to take her flowers to the next level, whatever that might be, and her parents were committed to getting her there. When they heard that a man named Benjamin Valenty could help them, they jumped at the opportunity. The Bennetts were hardly art connoisseurs or collectors--far from it. Michele and Matt were just suburban parents with an unusual daughter.

 

Friends told them about the California agent who specialized in developing child artists. Having already represented a girl he'd dubbed the "child Picasso," Alexandra Nechita, Valenty was marketing Dallas-area teenager Amanda Dunbar as a "child Renoir" when Michele Bennett contacted him about her precocious 11-year-old. His reputation for getting clients Oprah appearances and high-profile charity gigs was unparalleled.

"Visual art prodigies really don't fall off the tree. Any successful art prodigy over the past 10 years has been my discovery," Valenty boasts in a phone interview from his Southern California office in Rancho Santa Margarita. He says in court documents that he initially recognized Olivia's talent but turned her down because of his commitment to Dunbar. Valenty goes on to claim in the documents that Michele Bennett "would not take 'no' for an answer" and called him on an "almost daily" basis in order to secure representation for Olivia. Eventually, his work with Dunbar ended in a disagreement over the construction of a 60-foot-tall "Pyramid of Hope" charity monument to be built in Southern California. Valenty says the split with Dunbar ended "very amicably," and he then offered the Bennetts a contract.

On October 16, 2001, Matt and Michele, on Olivia's behalf, signed on the proverbial dotted line, giving Valenty the exclusive right to promote their daughter so that her work could be "published, produced, distributed...and sold in original and limited edition form." Valenty and the Bennetts agree that Valenty's promotions were more than mildly successful.

Valenty stretched his PR muscles, sending out myriad press releases and getting a Web site up and running. Galleries and collectors were alerted to the new Texas phenomenon. A book was planned. And, of course, there was the necessary media-friendly nickname. Olivia was the child O'Keeffe.

Olivia was whisked onto the set of Oprah in July 2002 in recognition of her donation to America's Fund for Afghan Children, which would later become a hotly disputed issue in the Bennetts' lawsuit against Valenty. One of Olivia's trademark paintings, a red rose intertwined with the American flag called "Let Freedom Bloom," was meant as a post-September 11 tribute. Proceeds of about $20,000 from sales of its limited-edition prints were slated to go to America's Fund for Afghan Children. Unfortunately, nobody thought to get the details of this agreement on paper, and both parties have a different take on where the eventual donation of just $8,800 came from, and how it got there.

Valenty claims that he and the Bennetts agreed to make separate contributions, and he forked over $8,800 as soon as he'd recovered production costs. In a sworn affidavit, Michele Bennett claims that Valenty said he'd donate the entire $20,000 but eventually handed over only $8,800 after "considerable pressure" from her. Whatever the actual events, Olivia had gained a reputation for being big-hearted, and people were taking notice.

Teen People named her one of their "20 teens who will change the world" in April 2003, and she got the opportunity to party it up in New York City with the likes of Kelly Osbourne and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

"Oprah was so surreal. It was so much fun," Olivia says. After the appearance, Winfrey commissioned a painting from her, and originals started selling to collectors (and several Oprah employees) for thousands, rather than hundreds, of dollars. It seemed like a win-win situation.

Valenty was taking his sizable cut (handing over between one-fourth and one-fifth of art sales and endorsement deals to Olivia in royalties and holding onto the rest in profits and expenses), but the Bennetts had no reason to complain--their daughter's talent had made more money than they could have ever anticipated when her ability to color inside the lines was recognized just a few years before. Olivia started homeschooling to dedicate more time to her art. Valenty had turned the preteen into another one of his miracle children--the child O'Keeffe, media darling and cancer survivor.


Caught up in their rapid successes, the Bennetts knew nothing of Valenty's troubled financial and legal history. A 20-year trail of questionable business ventures, lawsuits and bankruptcies haunts the artist's manager, according to public records. People magazine reported that he used to play drums for a small-time rock band. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame didn't come calling, he moved on to the coin-collecting business in the '80s, bankrupting his own firm in 1991, according to a columnist for the Orange County Register .

When Valenty stumbled onto the work of Alexandra Nechita in 1995, he struck gold. Finally able to use his PR-savvy personality to its fullest potential, he pushed the 9-year-old cubist's work to media outlets and celebrities, who soaked up her story as a Romanian immigrant trying to help her family achieve the American dream. Then there was 11-year-old Beso Kazaishvili, a refugee from the Republic of Georgia known for painting like Salvador Dali and coining catchphrases such as "art is the language, peace is the message."

 

Then it was Amanda Dunbar of Allen, Texas, who said her paintings were divinely inspired by what she called "angels"--silent inspirations that prompted her to paint with little or no planning beforehand. She, too, was granted the Oprah appearance rite of passage--twice--and published a book of her work, Guided by Angels (subtitled "Divinely inspired paintings by Amanda Dunbar"). It looked as if Valenty had found his calling. Each of his clients raked in the dough, earning unheard-of amounts of cash for their respective ages thanks to his well-honed media tactics. Years earlier, however, that penchant for marketing had put a permanent stain on Valenty's record.

When the Bennetts signed their October 2001 contract with Valenty, they didn't know about his lifetime ban from telemarketing, courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission. A 1997 FTC press release announced that a settlement had been reached to resolve allegations that his company, International Art Publishers, had been involved in a "deceptive scheme" to sell Disney collectibles and, earlier, vintage movie posters under a separate company name, National Art Publishers. Valenty was ordered to pay $150,000 in consumer redress after the FTC said that he sold the movie posters for six or more times what they were worth, virtually guaranteeing investors a financial loss. The settlement did not require him to admit any wrongdoing.

At least nine court cases in Orange and San Diego counties in California list Valenty as a defendant, something the Bennetts never thought to look up when they signed their six-year agreement. Many of the plaintiffs accuse Valenty of breach of contract. His knack for inciting legal conflict didn't stop with pre-prodigy failed ventures, either. Nechita, Kazaishvili and Dunbar all ended their business relationships with him at some point. Not surprisingly, money disputes were at the heart of it all.

Alexandra Nechita's family broke with Valenty in 1999, accusing him of withholding about $2 million in royalties, according to People. Today, the family is on good terms with Valenty after settling the suit, and he still works as her representative. "I have such a great relationship there," Valenty says. "They lived out every single day of that four-year contract." Her work is now featured on Valenty's Web site.

Things aren't so pleasant with the Kazaishvili family. Valenty settled with the child Dali after an ambitious charity project, the "Festival of Peace"--some kind of grand event featuring Beso's paintings that was supposed to be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena--fell through. A similar situation happened with Amanda Dunbar, whose $40 million "Pyramid of Hope," to be built with the help of independent investors in California, was put on hold after the events of 9-11, Valenty says. The Dunbars said at the time that they split with Valenty because of unwillingness on their part to mix business and nonprofit work. (Dunbar, who Valenty says graduated from SMU last spring, couldn't be reached for comment. The Dallas Observer was told she's doing an art residency in Fiji.)

Valenty's contract with the Bennetts was taking off just as the conflicts with Amanda Dunbar were heating up. As far as Matt and Michele knew, however, he was just a charming guy who'd found his niche. They admit in documents that Valenty worked hard to promote Olivia. After all, their daughter had gone from a Southlake Art in the Square honoree to a Teen People star. Who could complain, especially when Matt's employer filed for bankruptcy in January 2003?

Valenty says in his countersuit against the Bennetts that Michele told him they were "no longer able to make ends meet" and had begun "using their daughter's earnings to support the household."

"I've only had a couple of cases with parents where I felt that the parents were sans greed, that the whole greed factor didn't get the best of them," Valenty says. He contends that the Bennetts were no such parents. But a look at the Valenty marketing method reveals there's no such thing as altruism when it comes to manufacturing a visual art pop star.

Valenty, for his part, says he's representing artists who have "a gift rather than just talent. As such, I hope their work brings some joy to the world."


Ben Valenty says his clients are always full of natural grace. No press training, interview prep or poise classes are necessary, because he just plain knows how to pick the ones with the right personalities. But even the most media-friendly art prodigy needs a boost--and Valenty boosts hard.

 

"The first thing [Valenty] asked me on the telephone was 'Is your daughter beautiful?'" says the mother of a former Valenty client, who asked not to be identified. "He said if she wasn't, the media won't like her, and I can't help her."

Valenty says he's "never really thought about" the physical attractiveness of his clients, though he acknowledges that all of them "have been reasonably cute."

Regardless, once he's found a suitable charge, he kicks the marketing into high gear. Web sites are an integral part of his method, allowing him to create the ideal art prodigy online while remaining in complete control of his or her image. Amanda Dunbar's Web site is a prime example of the Valenty style--pumping up the artist's image with hype, celebrity endorsements and good works.

Viewers who want to "Meet Amanda" click on a link and are bombarded with a page full of smiling celebs photographed alongside the young artist. Amanda with Sting. Amanda with Bono. Amanda embracing a horde of small black children. The photos are carefully chosen to portray the perfect balance between safe celebrity endorsements and down-home charity goodness. Bono is edgy yet humanitarian, and VH1 mascot Sting is known for his nonprofit work. And anyone who hugs little black children can't be all bad, right?

"That's about people thinking that celebrities are somehow more knowledgeable than the rest of us. Somehow she's more legitimate because she's in touch with stars," says Charissa Terranova, a visiting assistant professor of art history at SMU and Observer art critic, after perusing the Dunbar site.

To read the site's text, one would leave with the impression that Dunbar falls just short of divinity. As one of the "greatest artists of all time" who can "capture not only her subjects, but their souls," she produces "one beautifully executed painting after another." But heavily hyped words of praise are to be expected when one is attempting to maintain art prodigy status. And it worked. The buyers, investors and charities came calling, not just with Amanda, but with all of Valenty's artist clients. Still, critics questioned whether there was any substance to the prodigy phenomenon.

"Child painter's gift draws skepticism over genius tag," reads a 1996 London Times headline. The article about Alexandra Nechita features a couple of scathing quotes from a British art critic, who said, "Most 10-year-olds can copy. If you dump them in front of a Picasso, they will make a Picasso, of sorts. If you put them in front of something difficult such as a Leonardo, they will find themselves stymied." Art critics, for the most part, left the prodigy business to human-interest feature writers clamoring for an inspirational story. Critics view the paintings as primarily profit-driven, if they view them at all.

"This is basically a capitalist kind of idea of art: something that should be bought and sold at will," Terranova says. She sees Valenty's clients as skilled in the craft of painting, but without originality. "This domesticates the wild, inventive idea of art," she says.

The mother of Valenty's former client supports Terranova's view. Her child, less prolific than Olivia and Alexandra, just couldn't paint fast enough for Valenty. She claims that the child was encouraged to hire "assistants" who would help her produce more than her usual supply of one or two works a month. She says Valenty told her that all the artists were doing it--popular artists such as Thomas Kinkade, as well as Alexandra Nechita.

"I almost vomited for three days after he told me that."

As long as the kids are churning out work, celebrities are commissioning art and the papers have another charitable donation to write about, the opinions of educated critics have little impact, when they speak on the subject at all.

Does Olivia get any criticism?

"Not really. I haven't had anyone really critique it," she says. Valenty's smoke-and-mirrors method deflects critical interest by distracting the public with the heart-warming (or heart-breaking) backstories for each of his artists.

"There's nothing wrong with selling their artwork; what's wrong is this whole metaphysical part of it as being propped up by angels," says Terranova, frustrated by the shameless marketing.

Valenty couldn't care less. "We don't exploit anybody. We've launched some incredible careers," he says. "I bet any artists selling paintings for $25 would be more than happy to be exploited in such a way."


All the legal battles, the stressful hours at her gallery and the press appearances have created a 14-year-old as used to playing grown-up as she is to painting flowers.

 

"Hi, welcome to the gallery!"

A tall, blond young woman strides toward the door, a beauty-queen smile pasted across her face. She shakes hands gently but assertively, her perfectly manicured nails reflecting the afternoon light pouring in through the gallery windows.

Maybe she's Olivia's 25-year-old sister, helping out for the day while Olivia takes the afternoon off.

"It's so nice to finally meet you. How are you?"

But Olivia doesn't have an older sister. This is Olivia?

On her guided tour of the gallery, Olivia walks slowly through each section, expertly giving her audience a chance to soak in what seems like endless images of flowers. She speaks carefully and deliberately, always making eye contact.

"I did this one when I was 12. It's King Tut," she explains before moving on to a wall of limited-edition prints. In comparison with her floral work at the same age, the Tut painting looks more like the work of an art student than art prodigy.

This is gallery owner Olivia. She will walk toward an image, stand back just a few feet and make a soft, guiding arm gesture toward the work. Her every move is a lesson in poise as she showcases walls full of colorful flowers and the occasional landscape.

Michele ushers her daughter to a couch in the back of the gallery and excuses herself from the interview.

"I'm sure Olivia can handle this by herself. She's used to it by now!" Michele flashes her daughter another one of her big, worshipful smiles and is off to the front of the store to lay in wait for more visitors.

Olivia sits near the edge of her seat, legs crossed. She leans in, one elbow on her knee, and starts answering the questions that she must be so very tired of by now. You really can't blame her for being, well...charmingly robotic.

How was Oprah? "It was such an out-of-body experience."

Does she ever wish she had a "normal" life? "No, I'd rather be happy and a little bit different."

Details of the family's feud with Valenty are mostly off-limits.

"It was an unfortunate deal. But everything happens for a reason, and it makes me stronger," she says, unwilling to comment further.

She seems reluctant to talk in depth about anything personal--even boyfriends or her favorite movie. (At the time, incidentally, it was Anchorman, which she'd seen twice at the theater.)

If she seems mature way beyond her years, it's probably because her best friend is more than twice her age.

"My mom is my best friend. People think we're sisters because we get along so well," she says. "I don't hang out with many people my age. It's so hard for them to accept that I'm so different."

Olivia finally appears to loosen up just before a second interview. She doesn't know she's being watched.

"OHMIGOD! I'm so proud of you!" Olivia squeals to a teenage friend visiting the gallery. They whisper excitedly about the friend's (apparently) successful coffee date with a choice boy. Olivia flips her hair, smiles a big, toothy grin and even does the excited-teenager full-body wiggle that can come only from someone under the age of 16.

Then the giggling begins, and then the hugging, and then they notice that a reporter is waiting to interview Olivia. She composes herself and sends her friend on her way with another hug.

Cue another round of canned answers.

Once Olivia begins painting, parked in front of her watercolors, she loosens up again. She sings along quietly with an Alanis Morissette song on the radio and falls into an easy rhythm of brushstrokes.

Michele, again keeping busy cleaning up and managing a slow trickle of customers, has been asked to get tickets to the Oprah show for some friends--but to do so would involve some less-than-honest maneuvering. She asks Olivia what she should do.

"Mo-om, you can't lie to Oprah. Oprah is like God," she says, laughing. Olivia even admits to getting embarrassed every once in a while. Recently, while vending wares on the Home Shopping Network, she knocked over a stack of chocolate boxes printed with her work. She was mortified. In spite of the lawsuits and home shopping disasters, however, she says she couldn't be happier.

"I'm living out my dream right now. This gallery was my dream. I thought I'd have it when I was, like, 18, but I'm 14," she says.

But once you've been on America Shops and in Teen People, is there anywhere to go but down?

"I don't know what I'll do when I'm, like, 25. Get married, maybe?" Olivia laughs. As for college, art school is always an option, but Olivia says she's afraid it might mar her talent by dragging her down or taking her out of her box. She's also considering business school. Olivia is beginning to realize that flowers may not take her much further in her career.

 

"I'm trying to get away from flowers and do landscapes and stuff," she says, showing off a series of small paintings of doorways straight from the ideal Southern Living country home. They bring to mind the prolific work of Thomas Kinkade, "Painter of Light," but just barely.

Olivia is clearly better at flowers.

Having turned 15 in August, she may be on the down cycle as an artist, as a celebrity, as a commodity. Only time--and her ability to paint non-floral themes--will tell.

Valenty, however, still seems to have an unlimited supply of art prodigies up his sleeve. And he's not afraid to use them.


Ten-year-old Akiane Kramarik, currently living in Idaho, says her paintings are directly inspired by God, despite her having been raised in an atheistic household. One of Valenty's latest discoveries, her conversion to Christianity at 4 brought the religion to the whole family and provided the perfect backstory for Valenty to work from.

He's also recently worked with the Quinard sisters, 10- and 12-year-old Orange County artists who paint in vivid colors and, according to their Web site, see themselves "as heirs to the creative genius of Masters of the 20th century."

Valenty had just enough time to get Akiane on Oprah before the relationship went sour. Forelli Kramarik, Akiane's mother, says they are trying to negotiate the end of their contract with Valenty without a lawsuit.

"We just pray to have it as cool and as manageable as possible. It could be such a nasty, nasty situation," Forelli says.

Grace Divine, mother of the Quinard sisters, says that they never officially signed an agreement with Valenty. Though he did successfully sell many of their paintings, Divine was leery of Valenty's habit of writing his own contracts.

Valenty has gone back to representing the Petite Picasso, Alexandra Nechita, once again. He's also pitching the wares of a "great American expressionist" named Rebecca Inman. He seems to have reached something of a dry spell, posting an open call for art prodigies on his Web site.

With Valenty's record, it should be only a matter of time before the next prodigy pops up and he gets to do the Oprah rounds again. The celebrities will pay the big bucks, the collectors will get excited, and, possibly, someone will get rich off the whole deal.

In the meantime, Olivia is working on improving her landscapes. She plans to travel to France in October. She has an almost inhuman drive to remain positive.

"Artists dream of having their own galleries their whole lives. Forty-year-old artists want this. And I have it at 14," she says.

Finishing her fuchsias, Olivia erases the pencil beneath the watercolors.

"Mom, do you think this is done?"


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