The story begins in 1945 with European Christmas cards and a man of great style, H. George Caspari. Through his namesake greeting card company, he established a tradition of fine art publishing, sourcing original artworks from museums around the world and seeking out a Swiss printer to adorn his cards with a luxurious finish—gold bronzing powder.
Today, with a boutique in Paris and a flagship store in Charlottesville, Virginia, Caspari’s publishing endeavors have leapt from the stationery box to the tabletop, sustainably producing high-end paper plates, napkins, and place mats, as well as lacquered decorative accessories for the home. President Lisa Milbank (who joined the company just out of college in 1981 when Doug H. Stevens, owner since 1977, hired her) shares how Caspari brings art and ease to our tables and lives.—FLOWER
Behind the Designs of Caspari
‘When I joined Doug at Caspari, we had a vision that can best be defined by the French phrase ‘trompe l’oeil’—to trick the eye into thinking that what you are looking at is real, such as a paper napkin that looks like cloth, or a paper plate that looks like porcelain.” — Lisa Milbank, President
Each and every one of Caspari’s designs begins with original, handpicked works of art. To find them, we dig through extensive collections of rare books belonging to the museums, libraries, and historic gardens and houses with whom we partner. We also collaborate with artists who typically paint from the actual plant or en plein air.
After editing the concepts and designs to focus on four seasonal collections a year, our design team goes to work. They often combine pieces from multiple documents, rotating the direction and overlapping different pieces to create something wholly new, and select the colors to style all the designs within a collection.
Fact: While Caspari began printing paper napkins that looked like textiles in 1983, paper plates came later, following an auspicious dinner party in Greenwich in 1990, where a fellow guest asked Stevens what he had against paper plates, noting he evidently did not do the dishes in his house.
Meet the Artists & Partners
Every artist and archival collection Caspari licenses has a story. Here, we’ve edited our collection to illustrate some of our exciting collaborations. Click the arrows (or swipe if on a mobile device) to see more.
Royal Horticultural SocietyThe Royal Horticultural Society serves and inspires all those interested in horticulture and gardening in the UK. Along with the famous Chelsea Flower Show and the magnificent gardens in Wisley, RHS is responsible for the Lindley Library in London, which houses botanical illustrations dating back to the late 1700s. These illustrations are an endless source of inspiration for many of Caspari's products.
Royal Horticultural Society, continuedFor Caspari's English Country Garden design, featured here on a Bridge Gift Set, we took a collection of botanical prints, reduced the scale, and added a small repeat pattern of leaves to give a feeling of a small textile print that is often seen in British fashion.
Karen Fjord KjaersgaardFrom her farm in Denmark, Karen Fjord Kjaersgaard painted her glorious vision of nature’s beauty for over 60 years. Caspari has long published her work on cards, napkins, and the like, sharing these delightful images for us to enjoy every day.
Karen KlugleinBeginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Karen Kluglein has created art for everything from food packaging to magazine covers and a billboard. After seeing an American Society of Botanical Illustrators exhibit, she knew her work and style of painting would fit right in; after all, she had long been painting tomatoes, berries, and herbs for clients. In the years since, she has painted many botanicals, exhibited, taught botanical painting at the New York Botanical Garden, and made tutorial DVDs.
Karen Kluglein, continuedCaspari's White Peony Die-Cut Placemat, handmade in our Connecticut bindery, brings Karen's lovely artwork to your table. Her work also graces the table setting pictured at the top of this story.
Chatsworth HouseSet in the heart of the Peak District in Derbyshire, England, Chatsworth is the historic home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The regal, art-filled home and extensive gardens, which include a working farmyard, is a magnificent place to visit (chatsworth.org). Its collections include John Gould's hand-colored lithographs, used in Caspari's Hummingbird Trellis design.
Gertrude HamiltonBorn and educated in Belgium, Gertrude Hamilton studied graphic arts in Paris and art in New York. She balances a historically infused style influenced by works of Dutch and Italian masters with a modern sensibility, while her technique of combining watercolor and pencil renders expressionistic stains of color. She paints her subjects with distinctive personalities as well as scientific accuracy, so that her works are more like natural history portraits than simple studies.
New York Botanical GardenThe New York Botanical Garden is an iconic living museum and, since its founding in 1891, has served as an oasis in this busy metropolis. As a National Historic Landmark, this 250-acre site's verdant landscape supports over one million living plants, while its archives house prints of Redoute’s hand-painted botanicals.
New York Botanical Garden, continuedCaspari has taken a group of Redoute’s prints and turned them into an all-over pattern, seen above on a Lacquer Tray. The design honors the art's integrity but creates an exuberance of color that comes from the mixing of flowers in a garden.
Catherine WeiszWith a love of vibrant color, artist Catherine Weisz pulls us into her world of watercolor flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Pictured above: Geraniums Gift Wrapping Paper.
Katharine BarnwellKatharine Barnwell is a classically trained artist living and working in New York City who once studied in Florence in the studio of Signorina Nera Simi. Barnwell paints a full-scale original oil painting of flora or fauna on wood, has a high-resolution scan made, and sends it to her carpentry studio. There, the painting's silhouette is laser-cut out of wood. Each season, the painstaking process yields a small batch of beautifully made objects, including fire screens, umbrella stands, and freestanding decorative paintings.
Katharine Barnwell, continuedInspired by her mother’s Sevres porcelain collection, Katharine painted a variety of delicate primroses and colorful chinoiserie cachepots. The Caspari team combined them to create the charming design featured on Primroses Dinner Plates, Salad & Dessert Plates, and Napkins.
Bringing It All Together
Our design shops in Paris and Charlottesville carry the full range of Caspari products, along with European glassware, flatware, and tableware accessories from around the world to enhance the trompe l’oeil effect. Seasonal store displays combine these items into visual feasts to inspire our guests.
The brick-and-mortar shops also bring the opportunity to partner with communities. Since Caspari opened its flagship in Charlottesville in 2005, we have enjoyed a wonderful partnership with the Garden Club of Virginia to support and promote Historic Garden Week. Every year we host a cocktail party in the shop prior to the start of the garden tour in our area.
In its 87-year history, Historic Garden Week of Virginia has been cancelled only once before when the country was in the midst of World War II. This year, due to shelter in place advisories around the coronavirus pandemic, Historic Garden Week was cancelled again. As we missed this very special springtime tradition, we thought we would sign off by sharing highlights from the 2019 event, when we invited local designers and vendors to create “Little Chelsea” in the shop, inspired by England’s illustrious RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
At this point in time if you cannot get to see us in Charlottesville, please visit us online at casparionline.com.
With our warmest wishes for everyone to stay healthy and enjoy art,
—Lisa and Doug
Historic Garden Week at Caspari
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The merchandising and gardening departments of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello joined forces to create a beautiful display of pots, flowers, ferns, and mosses—everything grown on the grounds of Monticello using their heirloom seeds. Historical specimens have been featured in the Chelsea Flower Show since its inception in 1913.
Catherine Bolton arranged flowers, urns, and statuary on a long table, mixing her floral arrangements with textiles and glassware to evoke an outdoor garden party. Entertaining in the garden is a focal point for Caspari, and Catherine entertained us all with such elegance and panache.