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A CONVERSATION WITH LISA MILBANK, CASPARI PRESIDENT

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Between eclecticism and daring

Although working on different mediums and scales, the Caspari and Pierre Frey Houses have been collaborating for many years and share many common points. Created ten years apart, they attach great importance to know-how and quality of execution. Their productions are a close reflection of the hand of the artist who designed the motif. Privileging eclecticism, they offer themselves the luxury of not forbidding anything in creation.  And this is what pleases, the audacity!

Lisa Milbank, President of Caspari, known throughout the world by all lovers of festive tables and for her original products made of high quality paper, answers our questions.

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When and by whom was Caspari created?
In 1945, H. George Caspari imported Christmas cards from Europe and founded an eponymous brand in the United States. He quickly imposed his style and taste by choosing works preserved in museums or by calling on artists to paint traditional motifs. He established the fundamental principle of the brand that still governs creation today, namely a close link between the artist and the printer so that each reproduction resembles the original in a trompe-l'oeil fashion.   The cards look like an original painting, the paper napkins like linen and the paper plates like ceramics.  Bought in 1977 by Douglas Stevens, Caspari widens its range of products, while respecting the codes inherited from the past.  To this day, Caspari still works with J.E. Wolfensberger, its original printer, located in Switzerland.

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Drawings are created in an integrated studio or do you buy drawings from artists? In this case, what is the role of the studio?
We are constantly on the lookout for new themes and ideas to make the collection fresh and inspiring. We meet artists, we visit museums and we collaborate with our licensing partners such as Pierre Frey or the Museum of Decorative Arts which allow us to access new creative horizons. Our design team in Charlottesville reworks each original to carefully create a layout that suits each product category.  In many instances they combine works of art to create a new piece and sometimes use our archive for inspiration or to add an additional piece to make a design just right. Each collection goes through a long editing process and eventually comes together when we reach the proper balance between design, theme, and color.

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Do you work regularly with the same artists?
We have an incredible group of Artists that we work with including Harrison Howard, Isabelle de Borchgrave, Karen Kluglein and many others.  When I joined Caspari, Ruedi Wolfensberger taught me that the link between the publisher and the printer is of utmost importance, but that there is nothing without the artist. Each Artist is special and has a specific style. That's why we take care to publish their works as they would be in an art gallery.

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How do you find new designs?
We are always on the lookout for new artwork.... Every day, in a book or a closet, wherever we go, a museum, a flea market, whoever we meet, an artist or an antique dealer!  We travel all over the world to produce or show the collections. Each trip brings its own flow of inspiration and new connections.  Inspiration and new ideas are everywhere... you just need to be in the mindset and the place to find them.

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What are the reasons that make you choose one design over another?
It often happens that we find a work of art and it stays in the studio for years until we find the right time to use it.  It is difficult to describe what distinguishes one work of art from another. It's like the twinkle in a eye, something stands out from the crowd and ends up making its way through the line.

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And color, is it important in your creations ?
Color creates balance. It is as important as the drawing but it comes at the end of the process when the products are on the press.  Sometimes we are true to the original but often we adapt it to our color palette.  At Caspari, we adore color. It's an endless field of experimentation and we seek color in the same way that we seek art. Wherever we look, we analyze how colors work together : whether they are intense in a flower or muted in a toile.

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You imagine collections for other people's house but how is yours?
My home is a mélange of what inspires me and also my husband!  Married quite late, my world included antiques, contemporary works of art and pieces inherited from my family.  My husband's world was strongly influenced by technology and antique vending machines.  Our home is a space where one's world confronts and blends with the other's : a television screen being covered with a removable Fortuny panel, a ping-pong table that is flanked by a spotted leopard print sofa, and a living room where the stereo speakers are seen as contemporary art. The house sits on a hill looking out to the mountains. The sun room, where I keep a collection of ceramics, textiles and books, is my favorite room, where I dream with my eyes lost in the landscape and the garden of a thousand colors. 

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