History of the Sarabhai Foundation
The Sarabhai Foundation was set up in 1959 by Smt. Sarladevi Sarabhai and Shri Ambalal Sarabhai as a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated, among other things, to the ‘promotion of science, art and literature’. Over the years, it has interested itself especially in preserving and interpreting the cultural heritage of India. The Foundation has been functioning, from the time of its inception, from the building that has come to be called the Sarabhai-ni-Haveli within the Retreat complex in the Shahibagh area of Ahmedabad.
Dating back to 1930, this sprawling Haveli, with its inlaid-marble floors and spacious rooms situated within a picturesque garden, served for many years as the residence of the Sarabhai family, built as it was, at the request of Shri Ambalal Sarabhai, by Surendranath Kar who had earlier designed Rabindranath Tagore’s house in Shantiniketan. In 1980-81, the whole building was handed over to the Foundation by the family.
In 1982, Calico Museum of Textiles ran into serious problems. The Calico Mills (established as long back as 1880), which was funding the activities of the Museum got into grave financial difficulties, and its Board of Directors realised that it was not possible for the Mills to financially support the Museum. Aware, however, of the importance of the Textile Museum, and acknowledging its collection as a National Heritage, the Board of Directors decided to make other arrangements for the maintenance and management of the Museum: an agreement was arrived at with the Sarabhai Foundation which undertook to run and take care of the Museum, using its own funds.
Following this, the Museum was shifted from the Mills compound to the Shahibagh premises of the Sarabhai Foundation in 1983. For housing the collection of the Museum, two different structures in the Retreat complex were used initially : the Sarabhai-ni-Haveli, and a complex of buildings around the old swimming pool, now commonly designated as the ‘Chauk’. The Haveli was used for housing the “Religious Textiles”, including Vaishnava and Jain artifacts in their historical and cultural context: the swimming pool complex, greatly modified and added to with facades of carved wood taken from old residential Gujarati houses built around a Chauk, was used to display large tents, carpets, costumes and textiles of Mughal and Provincial courts of India. The two sets of buildings being close to each other, offered the opportunity to visitors to the Museum of being led from one to the other through spacious lawns, avenues and a bridge over a lily pond.
The Foundation and Calico collections of art and artefacts are displayed in several galleries, each with a clear focus of its own, located in the Chauk and Haveli; it has an extensive programme of publications; it maintains a large botanical garden, the Udyana, devoted essentially to study and research. A major part of its activities is the running the Calico Museum of Textiles, for which it is responsible.
The Foundation has added to its range of activities: the holding of ‘Workshops’ for small, selected groups of young museum and university scholars with a view to sensitizing them to issues raised by, and in, Indian art while encouraging them to look at objects afresh and from close. A workshop on Looking at Indian paintings was run by Prof. B.N. Goswamy in February, 1997. A second workshop, on the theme of Sacred Bronzes from south India, was conducted jointly by Prof. B.N. Goswamy and Dr. R. Nagaswamy in January, 1998 and the third workshop on Pichhawais: Ritual Hangings of the Vallabha Sampradaya was conducted in February, 1999.