Barbara was born in Kandy and educated in Ceylon and Southern India. She showed an early interest in art and developed an intense love of colour. The vibrant hues of South Asia have provided her with a lifetime’s worth of inspiration for painting and cloth design.
Though Barbara had painted and drawn since early childhood, she was not initially drawn to weaving as a means of expression. In the early 1960’s, she started designing for cloth at the suggestion of a family friend, Mother Good Counsel of the Sisters of the Order of the Good Shepherd.
Faces in St. Lucia, West Indies. from the book, Faces by Barbara Sansoni
Having understood the principle of weaving, Barbara soon grew excited by its creative possibilities. She sought inspiration for her designs from the colours of life and nature around her, finding ways to represent what she saw and felt without the aid of representative figuration. She travelled the island, observing, sketching and taking notes.
Her bold, brilliantly-hued hand loom designs soon attracted attention. The cloth was first sold from her home in Colombo. The first retail store, HOUSE, was in The Fort area of Colombo and a second shop, called BAREFOOT and selling her first collection of clothes, opened at the Galle Face Court in the late 1960s.
BARBARA SANSONI. Yakadagala. 1964 Hand Coloured print.
While Barefoot grew under her influence, Barbara continued her creative work, as an artist and writer. She held her first one-woman exhibition in London in 1966 and has continued to exhibit regularly in Sri Lanka and abroad. Having worked as a journalist and essayist at the Ceylon Daily Mirror and the Times of Ceylon during the early 1960s, she published the book, Vihares & Verandas, in 1978; Architecture of an Island, in 1998, Missy Fu and Tikkiri Banda in 2002 Press with the Toes in the Grass, in 2004, A Passion for Faces in 2014 and Missy Fu in Yala 2015.
- Zonta Woman of Achievement – 1987 from the Zonta Club of Colombo.
- Woman Entrepreneur of the year 1997 (Gold award) by the Women’s chamber of Industry and Commerce.
- Sri Lankan Entrepreneur of the Year 1999 award by the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka.
- Kala Suri Award – 2005 from the President of Sri Lanka.
- 2011 Geoffrey Bawa Award for contribution to architecture.
- 2016 Honorary Doctor of Philosophy for the distinguished service rendered to the field of visual arts from the University of the Visual and Performing Arts – Sri Lanka.
- 2017 Inspirational Woman of the Year award, from the Organization of Professional and Career Women – Women in Management.