A room at a Redmond assisted living home isn’t the first place you’d expect to see an art gallery. But Devon H.C. Crutcher has made his spot a personal studio.

The room is full of works ranging from religious pencil pieces to acrylic paintings of animals. An artist since he was 5, health problems nearly took away Crutcher’s lifelong passion. But Crutcher, 61, is back to art with a passion.

Crutcher attended the University of Hawaii, where he learned to become a graphic artist. He said he became a fixture on the art gallery scene in Hawaii.

He came to Central Oregon in 1998 and, while he’s moved around the region, Crutcher has stayed in the area ever since.

“I came here to visit and decided this is where I want to be,” he said.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were a pivotal moment for Crutcher’s work. He responded to the tragedy by making an acrylic painting of a firefighter with his eyes closed and his helmet over his heart, with an angel placing a halo over his head.

Prints of the work, “9-11 Fireman,” were given to the families of all 343 firefighters who died in the attack. Crutcher said the original is at a memorial in New York.

He thought of doing a second painting dedicated to the police officers killed Sept. 11 but initially was hesitant.

“I started resenting the idea because it was so painful,” he said. “About a year or two later, I started thinking about doing it again.”

Around 2007, Crutcher began work on a follow-up painting with another angel, this one overlooking two children praying at a gravesite. Next to them is an NYPD hat and a Teddy bear.

The Sept. 11 attacks made a major impact on Crutcher.

“I was sitting there watching T.V. when it happened,” he said. “Something about being an artist, your calling is to report, I just report in a different way. It’s more concrete-like.”

Health problems

But he said work on the painting was slowed when doctors found three giant tumors. Doctors told Crutcher he was going to die, but, after an operation, he woke up two-and-a-half month later.

It was one of many medical setbacks. Crutcher said he developed a vicious form of diabetes and had numerous other surgeries, including replacing his carotid artery.

Crutcher said he also nearly bled to death after busting his head on a door.

But in late 2016, Crutcher moved into Regency Village in Redmond. Something clicked that re-inspired his love for creating art.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been cranking out the drawings and the paintings,” he said. “I didn’t think I was ever going to get back to it. Finally things just let up on me and I was able to do it.”

A new life

He works on paintings that he can finish within a couple weeks, like one of a deer he was putting the finishing touches on last week. The sales of the estimated 25 works per year help Crutcher make a living.

At the same time, he has larger projects like the New York police painting and one of Pope John Paul II that he’s been working on with a palette knife since the 1990s. Crutcher is looking to spend more time on those.

He’s talked to diplomats from the Vatican about sending the papal painting there, but that’s been so long ago that Crutcher is no longer sure if they are still around, he said.

He’s having similar issues finding people in New York to take on the NYPD painting.

“It’s been so long I’ve gotten out of touch with a lot of people,” he said.

Completing works on such subjects is rewarding, but can also be difficult, especially when Crutcher doesn’t know what the public reaction will be.

“It’s like something that’s incredibly heartfelt, but also very painful,” he said. “You have to find a balance between the two.”

Crutcher has completed many paintings of celebrities, from Magic Johnson to Jimi Hendrix. He’s even heard from some of them, including model Tyra Banks and singer Whitney Houston.

Crutcher still has several goals for his work, including painting the cover of the Sisters Folk Festival publication. But he primarily wants to promote a positive outlook of peace and love.

Lots of doctors

Redmond dentist Justin Higbee first became a friend and fan of Crutcher’s 15 years ago, though they lost touch for several years. Higbee is excited to see Crutcher painting again.

“He’s just a real, real talented guy,” Higbee said. “He’s got a little eccentric tone to him, but all he really wants is his acrylic paint and his canvas.”

Crutcher has painted Higbee’s wife and her father, as well as his nephew over the years. Higbee said Crutcher will soon be painting his three boys.

Crutcher even used Higbee’s front desk clerk as the model for the angel in “9-11 Fireman.”

“You put a picture and paint together and it absolutely comes to life,” Higbee said. “Other people do that, but I’m struck by how real they are.”

Doctors tend to be big customers of Crutcher’s work, he said.

“Every time I go into a doctor’s office, they know my situation, and I know their situation, and we hit it off,” Crutcher said. “I sell paintings like crazy to them.”

Crutcher is excited to be back painting. He calls his current condition a “free ride” where he can coast and just do what he wants.

“The way they’re making me feel, I might go another 30 years,” he said of Regency. “It’s like the feeling that God’s touched me, I feel pretty warm inside. I feel very blessed.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmondspokesman.com