Artist Transforms Corrective Baby Helmets Into Sassy Works of Art
The Washington artist wants to take the stigma out of corrective helmets for babies with flat head syndrome.
Just because the shape of your skull needs correcting, it doesn't mean you can't rock a really cool hat.
For Washington artist Paula Strawn, that's her creative credo.
The grandmother of six has been painting for most of her life — from canvases to posters to furniture. And for the last 15 years, she's been turning antiseptic-looking helmets for babies with flat head syndrome into stylized fashion symbols.
Parents are often put off by "this white ugly helmet" prescribed for their babies, said Strawn. Out in public with their child, people will stare or ask embarrassing questions.
"They don't want people to look at their baby with pity or sadness," Strawn told InsideEdition.com.
Since the 1990s, when pediatricians petitioned parents to place their infants on their backs to avoid sudden infant death syndrome, nearly 50% percent of babies developed flat head syndrome, or cranial plagiocephaly, according to medical experts. Because newborns have soft heads, lying on their backs can cause flat spots on their skulls.
Baby helmets are designed to correct that by providing circular protection to the little ones' noggins. Strawn started decorating the pint-size gear after being approached by an acquaintance who wondered if the artist could dress up this strange contraption prescribed for her grandchild.
So Strawn, who was living in Southern California at the time, tried her hand at it. If one must wear a strange-looking thing on one's head, why not have fun with it, she thought.
Her customer was pleased with the colorful result, which led to more inquiries, which led to 62-year-old Strawn working six days a week, 12 hours a day, creating cheeky head protectors.
She runs her business, Lazardo Art, with her husband.
Parents can choose any design they like, from cartoon characters to armed services avatars. Strawn discusses colors and fonts with the moms and dads who mail the helmets to her. One couple had a grandfather who served during World War II, so Strawn painted an Army Air Corps badge on their baby's headgear.
After discussing a design, some parents never follow through with an order, Strawn said. And that's just fine with her. "It's very helpful" to simply talk about the fact that their baby looks different from others, she said.
"It helps them work through the process," she explained.
For those who do order, and there have been about 3,000 of them, sporting a brightly colored hat painted to look like a baseball, emblazoned with "Workin' on My Curve," makes people laugh.
"The baby gets smiles from everyone," Strawn said. "People say, 'Oh, how cute.' It's something fun and friendly, and it's a great way to start a conversation."
Strawn said she paints each helmet the day she gets it, and has it back in the mail by the next day. That's necessary, she said, because babies' heads grow quickly and the headgear must fit correctly in order to work.
A 12-hour day is a luxury, she said. More often than not, she works from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. "I have painted all night long," she said, to finish a day's orders.
Her prices average between $220 to $300 per item. She has also designed protective gear for pediatric brain surgery patients.
For the most part, babies will wear the devices for two to three months.
For Strawn, it's the perfect mix of everything she holds dear — notably children and art.
"I love what I do," she said. "It's the best job ever."
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