In Virginia, Snail Mail Comes Back in Style

Snail Mail specializes in happy images with meaningful messages. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles

October 5, 2020

A local artist and businesswoman uses her talent to help brighten others’ lives.

RICHMOND – For Carrie Cheatham, a desk job wasn’t going to cut it. Or paste it. Or paint it. The artist and entrepreneur, along with her husband, Andrew, started Snail Mail in 2017 with little more than passion and persistence.

What started as a side project quickly turned into a full-time career. Over the past three years, they’ve made over 15,000 cards, each one by hand.

The joy of card making struck Carrie at a young age.

“I actually used to make cards for all occasions. I was always one that just made my own cards. My mom was preschool teacher for a long time, so making our own cards was just kind of a thing,” Carrie said. “So that’s where the card part of it came from, was really just wanting to do something that I couldn’t buy in a store. So painting a card was definitely something I couldn’t find in a store. And so that’s kind of where the hand painted card aspect came from.”

She and her husband never print cards. Each one has its own original painting and lettering, sending a positive message.

“All of the color that’s on the cards is all acrylic paint,” Carrie said.

Snail Mail’s signature design isn’t an elaborate, multi-faceted image. It doesn’t come with elements scrolling off the page in every direction. It’s a modest, brightly colored painting that immediately captures the viewer’s eye.

“I would describe the things that I create as uplifting and very positive. My artwork is very playful,” Carrie said. “I also have had someone tell me very recently how simple the artwork is. The colors are very dynamic, but the drawing itself is always very simple, which gets the point across very easily.”

A profitable endeavor supports nonprofits

It’s not just Carrie’s artwork that receives recognition. Snail Mail also shines a light on people experiencing displacement from their native countries.

Interning with ReEstablish Richmond in 2015, Carrie said she didn’t know anything about refugees or the population of refugees in the Richmond area. Her adoration of the population quickly grew as she visited homes of recently resettled families, navigated city bus routes with them and became a caregiver for children while their parents learned the state’s laws.  

“Ever since then, the generosity and the hospitality that refugees show us as Americans is just unreal,” Carrie said. “I think that they have so much to offer our community. That’s where the refugee part of it came in.”

Every six months, Snail Mail donates a percentage of their sales to one of five organizations. Those partnering with the business include ReEstablish Richmond, International Neighbors Charlottesville, Sacred Heart Center, Church World Service and Miry’s List.

“Basically how it works is every six months, we rotate where the money goes,” Carrie said.

No matter which organization benefits at the end of each bi-annual period, the proceeds go toward a similar cause.

“Refugees are a very isolated group of people. They often feel a lot of isolation. When I first started this business, my basic foundation was to say, ‘If I’m going to sell a product, it has to have a purpose. What is my purpose?’” Carrie said. “In working with refugees and volunteering and just following a lot of the organizations that I really admire, I wanted to be a cheerleader for all of those organizations. That’s basically what I think that this business does. It’s uplifting a group of people while also uplifting organizations that are already doing the work that might not always get noticed.”

In Virginia, Snail Mail Comes Back in Style

“Starting this business, instead of making all of the profits for myself, I wanted it to be basically like a community partnership.”

Snail Mail founder Carrie Cheatham

Dollars and cents add up

Snail Mail helps supplement funds for projects that nonprofits envision, but might not have money within their annual budgets to accomplish.

“Starting this business, instead of making all of the profits for myself, I wanted it to be basically like a community partnership,” Carrie said. “I wanted to work with people because it takes a village to help each other out, especially now.”

The company’s handmade cards aren’t expensive, especially for an original work of art. However, the proceeds going toward the nonprofits add up quickly.

“I try to make my products reasonable considering the time that goes into them. When you’re buying a $6 card, that percentage that’s not going back to me, that adds up,” Carrie said. “After a while, if you buy a set of cards instead of just one card, that percentage of that $45 or $100 or even just the $6, it’s definitely a collective effort. It’s something that after you see it at the very end of that six months, you’re like, ‘Oh crap. Like, all of the cards that I bought, those cents and those dollars turn into more dollars and those dollars turn into more dollars.’ I think it’s such a testament to say, whether you can afford one card or 50 cards, it matters. It really, really does matter.”

What started as a stationary business is now a full-fledged art production. In addition to hand painted cards, the Cheathams also offer custom portraits, commissioned artwork, original artwork, stickers and more. You can find the operation here.

“It started as something very small, and thanks to the people of Richmond, it has really, really grown,” Carrie said. “And I’m so thankful.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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