Paige Crouch was a Sunday school teacher in 1987, but one rainy Sunday, her car hydroplaned. “I tried steering into it, pumping the brakes, nothing was working,” Paige says. “So I raised my arms and gave it to God, and ended up hitting three small trees that were growing together.” She survived the crash and became a quadriplegic.
It was the start of a new journey. “Everything in your life changes,” she says. “You feel infantile. I’m dependent for everything.” The recovery process was grueling, but she learned how to manage her life and body. “It’s still a journey.”
After learning about an artist who did paintings with his mouth, Paige decided to give it a try. “I had my brother make a stand-up easel out of plywood, and put a pencil in my mouth, and literally almost stabbed myself in the back of the throat,” Paige says. “I gave up on it.”
The idea wouldn’t leave, though, so years later she tried again using a hand splint to make strokes that resembled impressionism. “I was happy with that, but one day I had my assistant put the brush in my mouth,” she says. She wanted to try again. “And I did it and voila. I was able to do it more purposefully, and it just turned out so good that I wanted to continue with it.”
Foot and Mouth Painting Artists
Paige learned about Foot and Mouth Painting Artists through her physical therapist. The organization is a world-wide company with around 800 artists, about 70 of whom are based in the United States. She applied by sending in six of her original paintings. “They were like my babies at the time, but I let them go,” she says. “About nine months later I was interviewed by their manager in the Atlanta office, and they accepted me.” She’s been under contract with them for about twelve years.
Being accepted opened up a whole new world. Her scholarship through the organization gives her incentive to keep going. She sends a painting to them every four to six weeks, and they pick the ones they like and send her a bonus for them, which is extra incentive. “It encourages you to keep going,” she says. “You never know what is going to make a hit.”
Practice May Not Make Perfect, But It Helps
The more you do something, the better you get at it. Although Paige didn’t start painting until she was 42 years old, she does it a lot. In fact, she spends over 60 hours a month painting, but that doesn’t mean everything’s perfect. “It’s hit or miss, and I still make what I call happy mistakes,” she says. “I paint with the brush about twelve inches away from the canvas, and I need to back away every once in awhile to see what I’ve done in another perspective.” The journey is ongoing.
Each painting takes about 50 hours to complete. “Because I have a neck injury, I can only paint for two or three hours at a time, and then I take a break,” she says.
Paige demonstrates her painting at churches, schools, and rehab centers. “They can see me paint and know what I’m doing. It’s better to have a visual sometimes,” she says. Then there’s a Q&A session, and she’s always getting new and different questions from her audience.
Her favorite demo so far was at Falls Church High School. “I met a boy with cerebral palsy that spoke through a computer, and he asked me if I’d ever heard of Action Wheelchair Art,” she says. She had not heard of them before then, but she’s glad she has now, thanks to him.
The students all also wanted to get their picture taken with her. “I felt like a celebrity,” she says. “It was wonderful.” It was a far cry from when she felt like a label upon first learning that she was quadriplegic.
Paige’s hope with the demo days is to inspire others, and not just those with disabilities. “I’m hoping people will be inspired to just keep trying,” she says. “Go forth, try new things, and live life however you have to.” It’s very common for people with injuries such as hers to retreat into a deep, dark hole and never come out. Young men who become paralyzed have an especially high suicide rate. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Advice for the Newly Injured
For those just starting on this journey, Paige advises them to never give up. “Believe in yourself and any higher spirit you may have,” she says. Her deep faith has kept her going. “Don’t give up. It will get better.”
You can find Paige’s paintings on her Facebook page. Nothing is set in stone, but she may also be performing demos at Melwood and Arlington in summer of 2018. Keep your eyes peeled for Paige’s nephew Michael Murphy, who does Michael Murphy Speaks inspirational speeches and who is also training for the 2022 mono-skiing Paralympics.