KENNEWICK, Wash. - She's a mother, now a grandmother, and she's an artist, and over the years, she has been able to blend all three to make a difference in the lives of thousands of families and their children.
She paints helmets, but not just any helmets. One day, many years ago, Paula Strawn, of Kennewick, Washington, was asked to help her children's first grade teacher by painting the cranial helmet her granddaughter was wearing, which is used to help to correct the baby's skull shape. "Paint this ugly thing!" she recalled the teacher asking, and so she did.
The teacher's orthotist then reached out to Strawn to paint some more, and it grew from there, becoming her fulltime job. "He was an advocate for parents having the helmets painted,"Strawn said. "He felt that a fun and friendly design was a real attitude changer for parents and for those baby came in contact with," she said.
Her most popular design is the aviator helmet, but having painted more than 2,800 of them over a span of about 13 years, she's had many favorites like motorcycle helmets, a Van Gogh's "Starry Night" helmet, and a helmet based on the book "Where the Wild Things Are," though her list of favorites is very long. "It's a rare day that I don't paint something I love!" she said.
In addition to helmets, Strawn has painted leg braces and even a batting helmet, but the most rewarding part for her is hearing how happy the parents are. "I have had parents in my living room teary because their beautiful baby has to wear this ugly but needed thing. They don't want others to look at their adored and cherished wonder of the world with pity... that is heartbreaking!" she said. "I think of the design process as therapy. Then they see the helmet and baby wears it and gets smiles...they are delighted!"
The helmets run from just under $200 to $350 depending on the personalizations and she gets orders from all over the world.
Strawn says she has no plans of ever stopping. "I plan to do this until I die. Or I can't see anymore. Or can't hold a paintbrush. You get the drift," she says.