Paula Strawn is an artist who has been painting all her life. She's turned her passion into her livelihood by painting corrective helmets that are primarily for babies with plagiocephaly, also known as flat head syndrome.
At 62-years-old, Strawn has been doing this for 15 years. It all started when a friend of hers approached about her granddaughter who was prescribed one of the helmets.
“She told me, ‘Paint this, make it fun,’” Strawn recalls. “I hadn’t painted on anything like that before, but when I did, they were very happy. I had no idea that I would be doing this six days a week for the rest of my life. But I paint baby helmets, and it’s the best job ever.”
During that time, Strawn was living in Southern California, and the news quickly spread about her services. She now lives in Washington and has painted more than 3,000 helmets for people across the country.
“They don’t want people looking at the helmet,” Strawn says. “The parents want people looking at their baby. A parent would come in and break down because they were feeling so bad that their beautiful child has to wear a foreign thing on their head.”
Strawn recently painted a helmet for a family living in Centennial, Colorado.
“We always wanted a family and it wasn’t possible. Then one day, it was, and he arrived,” says mother Nicole Pritchard. “When our son Jameis was born, he had what’s called complex craniosynostosis, so it didn’t allow for any room for the brain to grow properly. It would just push the other bones out that were opened, so he had some serious surgeries. Two major ones that [were] eight hours a piece.”
Pritchard had her son’s helmet painted by Strawn.
“It’s such a great thing cause it changes the dynamic how people look at your son,” Pritchard says. “Kids will be more engaged with him saying, ‘That’s a cool helmet,’ rather than be scared and run away thinking something is wrong."
“Art speaks to people’s experiences,” Strawn said. “It allows people to see a little bit into somebody else’s experience.”