Sumter Artists’ Guild Winner, 19, Shares Her Creative Journey From Passion To Loss, Growth

July 22, 2022

Author: Alaysha Maple /

Surreal. An adjective used to describe an experience or feeling that is strange, not seeming real or like a dream. This is the exact feeling Olivia Cardello, a 19-year-old freshman at Central Carolina Technical College in Sumter, said she felt when she was named the youngest Sumter Artists’ Guild winner for her metal and acrylic artwork, “The Family Tree.”

The Sumter native began her creative journey at a young age.

She comes from a family of creators. Her mom, Laura, is a talented pottery artist, and her dad, Mike Tucker, took art commissions for metal work as a blacksmith. Growing up, Cardello said she didn’t spend much time with people her age. Her companions were the “little old ladies” of the guild, which her mom was a member and is now president of. The members painted and did pottery, but Cardello learned a lot from her older friends and found a creative release drawing and painting.

In the fourth grade, Cardello joined REACH, a program for artistically gifted and talented students who have opportunities to develop and enhance their talents in the areas of visual arts, theater and choral music. Each summer, she and her creative peers would get together and were taught about different forms of art by various teachers throughout the state. It was then that Cardello was given the chance to experiment with art. Test out different styles, try different mediums and trial and error until she found her unique style.

At the end of the program, the students would showcase their art in either a concert, play or art show. However, though Cardello enjoyed creating art using a pen, paper and the occasional paint, she wasn’t the biggest fan of her art, explaining her dislike with the phrase, “You can have taste but not the skill.” With a dislike for her drawing style and a disinterest in pottery, she wanted to try her hand at an art form that was not so traditional. At age 12, Cardello started blacksmithing with her dad. He taught her how to make knives and axes and inspired her with the unique metal pieces he would make when commissioned.

This sparked an interest in her, and she took the skill seriously, making her own items by age 14 and continuing the hobby with her dad for the next few years. Inspired and eager to better her skills, Cardello stepped out and began welding at 18. Through trial and error, she discovered she enjoyed metal, as she loved seeing the progress of her work. It became her primary art medium.

“Once you figure out the skill and how to do it the right way, it’s rewarding to see your results,” she said.

Then, everything went “really quiet” when her dad passed in 2021. Cardello said she became isolated from friends, family and the world, even erasing herself digitally from social media. She opened up, admitting that point in her life was dark and filled with uncertainty.

However, she continued welding in her family friend’s shop, throwing herself into her work. As she graduated and sat contemplating the future, she considered the idea of going to college. She was hesitant, as she had a rough experience in high school academically and socially. It wasn’t until CCTC welding professor Axel Reis walked into the shop one day that the hesitancy changed to certainty. Cardello said Reis was intrigued by her skills and suggested she enroll in the local college to pursue welding. Already enamored with the craft, she enrolled in CCTC in August 2021, testing out of the general education courses and having her entire schedule be devoted to welding for four days a week.

Reis, also involved in the arts, encouraged Cardello to take this time to focus on creating more metal artwork. She began working more meticulously, creating items like a decorative wall piece, a 3D vase of flowers for her mom and a Venus fly trap – all out of metal. Her first few pieces were spent figuring out how to place the metal to make them look right. Once she became comfortable with the skills, she was able to bring the ideas in her head to life easily, she said.

Her idea for a metal piece symbolizing her family tree is the most sentimental piece Cardello has ever made – and her only piece of artwork to win an award.

It took one week for her to create a structure to symbolize her family tree. The structure, consisting of intricate shapes connected using three vertical slim rods and three horizontal rods, represents her mom and her passion for sculpting. To represent Cardello, the entire piece is covered in a variety of light hues from soft blue and lilac to bursts of colors like red and yellow, topped off with detailed flowers made of dots and fluidly drawn lines. The metal – the material that serves as the foundation for the piece and ultimately connects every element together – represents her dad.

Cardello faced criticism from many about her work and efforts as a woman in the welding field – it was a rare sight, she said. Nonetheless, with the support of her mom, professor and a few classmates, she entered her piece in the guild exhibition.

The day before winners were announced to the public, Cardello got the call that she, at the age of 19, won second place. She burst into tears on the phone, in shock because of the result and in awe of herself. Cardello admitted she went into the exhibition not expecting anything out of it. She went from flying under the radar to being recognized throughout the city and still is unsure of how to feel about the win and the recognition. She laughed brightly as she said, “I was just making what I make.”

Despite the unfamiliar attention, she is happy she is starting young because she has ample room to grow. Slowly, she is making her way back to social media to showcase her art and wants to get to a point where she can take commissions, which people have already asked about, but all in due time, she said. She hoped to revamp her dad’s old studio and purchase tools to be able to work on pieces outside of CCTC.

“If everyone likes it now, imagine in a year when I get better. I haven’t even been doing this for a full year yet,” she said. “I don’t think I would be in the position I am today if I would have let my doubt of myself hold me back. I had nothing to lose, and I was at a bad point, so I just put all of myself into it, and look where I am.”

Moving forward, Cardello has big dreams for herself. In the near future, she hopes to enter a few pieces in ArtFields, a competition started in 2013 which serves to honor artists throughout the Southeast and revitalize the small Southern town of Lake City. As a career, she plans to enter into welding full-time for a major factory and do commissions on the side – she can never stray too far from her creative roots.

However, she hopes the young creators in her mom’s pottery classes at the Sumter County Gallery of Art, her fellow welding classmates that have taken a more creative perspective on their metal assignments and anyone who may have a passion for art – traditional or non-traditional – will feel more confident in experimenting with art, putting themselves out there and realizing “it’s cool to see people be creative.”

“There are a lot of kids that are hard on themselves because they don’t think that what they’re doing is up to par with what other people do. But I think you can have taste before you develop your skill, and that’s more important than being good at it right away because you can advance a lot,” she said. “It’ll take time, but you’ll get there.”