The Calico Museum of Textiles is India’s top textile museum, run by the Sarabhai Foundation. Several people believe that it has the best and most complete collection of Indian textiles in the world. The textiles are kept in The Retreat, in Ahmedabad‘s Shahibaug district, along with the excellent collection of South Indian bronzes, Vaishnava picchavais, Jain art, and miniature paintings owned by the Sarabhai Foundation. The Foundation offers a wide selection of textiles and other publications and runs daily museum tours of the exhibits. This exceptional museum is spread over two premises within the Retreat: the ‘Sarabhai-ni- Haveli’ and the ‘Chauk’.
The Haveli in Calico Museum of Textiles is a grand mansion with expansive, open balconies, open stairs, marble flooring throughout, and a terrace with mosaic (Clay ceramic tile flooring with colourful designs) that looks out upon lush gardens. The idea of the museum‘s curator was to tie together the development of textiles across time while projecting Indian religious feelings from various ages and generations. There are priceless treasures of Pichwais at the Calico Museum of Textiles, with delicate pichwais pasted on pure gold particles, deft needlework embroidery on a piece of vivid red silk, and many more.
Gallery in Calico Museum of Textiles is a classic Gujarati/Ahmedabadi Pol (house), complete with magnificent wooden cantilevered balconies, exquisite wood carvings of parrots, elephants, floral patterns, gods, goddesses, frescoes, and decorative door brackets and knobs. This gallery is proud of the wooden facade surrounding the courtyard, originally taken from ancient, deteriorated traditional Gujarati homes in Ahmedabad to conserve the heritage architecture.
The Calico Museum of Textiles attracts many public visitors, as well as an increasing number of Indian and foreign research scholars, due to its heritage. Its museum depicts traditional PolHouse features of Ahmedabad, including the facade, chowk, chabutro, columns, khadki, door frames, and windows. The Calico Museum of Textiles’ front courtyard serves as a marketplace. The natural colours of the fabric are not protected against climatic conditions like moisture and dust by using natural light or ventilation. Due to the proximity of the two sets of buildings, visitors to the museum can be guided from one to the other through parks, avenues, and a bridge over a lily pond.
The Retreat also encompassed a building complex around an old swimming pool, built up with carved wooden facades sourced from ancient Gujarati mansions of the region, all set around a courtyard or ‘chauk’. The museum exquisitely exhibits various textiles from Kashmiri shawls, Punjabi phulkaris (floral embroideries), Gujarati tie-dyes and embroideries, ikat saris from distinct regions of India, kalamkaris, royal wardrobes, Kanchipuram silks and much more.
Display and visitor experience
The Calico Museum of Textiles rejects traditional museums’ sterile ambience and fragmented and self-conscious display design. The presentation here taps into a rich Indian vein by encouraging methods of perceiving, forming relationships, and contemplating the whole rather than its disparate components, all of which are most suitably anchored in India’s cultural sensitivities. At least three display features stand out. One: it is modular, lightweight, and versatile, modelled after early exhibition design principles. It allows for the creation of a seamless and unselfconscious matrix of textures, colours, and images in which the object succeeds the object. The section follows section, practically without a pause, one thing leading and melting Into another, like a majestic, continuous river flow. Two of the displays remain near the observer. There are no frigid, artificial distances. Nothing stands between the spectator and the item save the protective. Coverings are required in a typical, non-climate-controlled environment. Three: the formality of items is reduced, and nothing is given special emphasis. There are no set viewing angles from which to view the displays. As a result, the visitor is liberated from confronting a formally articulated and intellectually taxing museum atmosphere. Instead, the galleries give a powerfully effective picture of India’s historical arts and their traditional settings in a way that is rarely seen elsewhere.
As a secondary housing for the family, in 1904, the Sarabhai family purchased a few farms in the former Mughal gardens of Shahibag, and a new small house was constructed. Later, after a couple of years, the family moved to the house in Shahibag, expanded it and entitled it “The Retreat”. It was home to over 800 plant species and was previously developed as a botanical garden. The garden has a rich diversity of magnificent trees, many indigenous and numerous shrubs. Not only that but it also habitats sundry species of wildlife. The lush gardens and fountains on the museum complex deliver a captivating experience.
The Calico Museum of Textiles is disparate. The Calico Museum authorities, unlike the typical method of presenting the pieces in glass cases followed by other museums, have covered the exhibits with a transparent plastic film. Scientific testing of the film has confirmed that it is chemically inert. It has been done to ensure the dyes aren’t damaged by the plastic films and the material they want to protect.
The museum authorities take good care of the items on display. The trees surrounding the museum complex safeguard the textile from dust, air pollution and temperature fluctuations. The life of the textiles is extended by dimming the lights between visiting hours and controlling the relative humidity. The wooden structure, with relatively thick walls shaded from the sun, contributes to conservation requirements.
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