Wendi “Paige” Crouch, a McLean resident who overcame a devastating car crash and became an accomplished artist by learning how to paint with a brush in her mouth, died Aug. 19 at age 61.
Crouch’s life changed forever on Sept. 13, 1987. She was driving to Sunday School, where she taught a class, at McLean Baptist Church when she lost control of her vehicle as it hydroplaned on Old Dominion Drive. The vehicle smashed into a group of trees, breaking Crouch’s neck.
“I wasn’t knocked out,” Crouch told the Sun Gazette in a fall 2010 interview. “I couldn’t move, but I didn’t think I was paralyzed. I knew something was terribly wrong.”
The accident left Crouch a quadriplegic and she spent seven months in the hospital. Still able to move her head and left arm slightly, Crouch in 1999 began painting pictures.
She initially painted using acrylics, but switched to oils because they stayed wet and malleable longer. Her paintings tended to be small; the largest one she had completed as of the 2010 interview was 9 1/2 by 14 inches.
Crouch enjoyed painting landscapes, pet portraits, wildlife and celebrity images, including a black-and-white portrait of rock musician Eric Clapton that she said “flowed out of me in two days.”
Crouch prided herself on brush control and tried to achieve photo-realism in her works. She worked at a drafting table with sufficient room below to accommodate her motorized wheelchair.
The artist would position her wheelchair in front of a wooden, desktop easel and ask her assistant for a brush with a plastic handle that allowed her to hold it in her mouth securely. She then would transfer paint from a plastic-wrap-covered palette onto a canvas, which like the palette had been mounted vertically for ease of usage.
Crouch belonged to the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA), an Atlanta-based international association owned and operated by disabled artists. The organization bought several of her works and featured her rendering of Niagara Falls in its 2020 Canadian calendar. The group will showcase one of Crouch’s winter scenes in its 2022 U.S. calendar.
“Paige had a spirit. She had this way of connecting with you on a really deep level,” said Kate March, MFPA’s artist liaison. “She had such a profoundly kind and genuine heart. She genuinely cared about others and had no ulterior motives other than wanting to be kind. She had so much joy and positivity.”
Crouch also demonstrated her mouth-painting techniques and displayed her works at many area venues.
Born in Colorado Springs, Colo., on June 29, 1960, Crouch moved to McLean when she was 3. She attended Chesterbrook Elementary and Cooper Intermediate (now Middle) schools and graduated from Langley High School in 1978.
Crouch worked as a facilities-management analyst with a mortgage company in Chevy Chase, then married and became the owner and manager of Video World, the first video-rental store in McLean.
She and her husband divorced two years after the accident. Crouch met another man online in 1994 and he died in 2004. A year later, she met Steve Crouch and they married in 2006.
Crouch was preceded in death by her father, Joe A. Gardner, and a brother, Allen Gardner. She is survived by her husband, Steve Crouch; her mother Betty Gardner, age 91; her sister Teri Murphy (husband Frank); her brother Paul Gardner (Leigh); her stepson Chris Crouch; and many nieces and nephews.
“In spite of this profound, life-changing injury, she never lost her love of life and her sense of adventure,” her family wrote in a memorial tribute. “She and her husband enjoyed cruising the Caribbean, spending time on the Outer Banks and long weekends in the country traveling in their RV.”
“Paige was incredibly kind and philanthropic,” her family wrote. “She never met a stranger, and she generously opened her home, her closet and her wallet to all who needed her. Her capacity to love and her kindness to others will be her legacy found in the numerous lives she touched.”
The family asks that donations be made to Mouth and Foot Painting Artists or the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which is affiliated with the University of Miami in Florida. Family members also expressed gratitude to Crouch’s caregivers over the years and to the doctors, nurses, staff and palliative-care team at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington for caring for her during her last few weeks.
The family will hold a celebration of life service on Aug. 25 at 4 p.m. at McLean Baptist Church, 1367 Chain Bridge Road in McLean, which will be followed by an exhibition of Crouch’s paintings and a reception at the church. A private interment will precede the service.