Gallery owner brings San Francisco chic to Burque
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, November 25, 2010
In addition to a delightfully unusual name, Leslie Acosta-Isengard has a magnificently light voice. It’s dainty and guileless, the perfect complement to her hands, which are so slender that when shaking one of them, you almost wonder if it’s going to dissolve in your palm. Add to these traits a head of jet-black hair and a sylph-like physique, and you’re basically dealing with a woodland sprite. But although she may seem delicate, she’s a woman who isn’t afraid of chasing down what she wants.
Acosta-Isengard is the owner of Panda Robot, a five-month-old gallery and clothing boutique in Huning Highlands. The coolest thing about the shop is that more than 90 percent of its stock is made by local artists, which includes Acosta-Isengard herself. She opened Panda Robot, she says, because she wanted to create an outlet for local designers, crafters and artists to show and sell their work. The Albuquerque native had never been to a boutique of the same ilk in town, she says, although she had seen them in cities like San Francisco, and she wanted to bring the flavor of such places to her own city.
As a 24-year-old still enrolled full-time at the University of New Mexico, she originally thought she’d open the store later in life, after first having a “normal career.” But one day last fall, she says, with no apparent instigator, she “just decided to do it.” With a small personal loan, a collection of stock she’d pieced together and store hours molded to her class schedule, on June 1 Acosta-Isengard opened what she calls her “one-lady project.”
Walking into Panda Robot feels a bit like walking into someone’s house, only with merchandise in place of a kitchen table. A green vintage sofa and turquoise high-backed armchair sit on hardwood floors, backdropped by a bright turquoise wall and an assortment of hanging white paper lanterns. Acosta-Isengard plays music through her laptop and, when not helping customers who trickle in and out, can often be found perched on the sofa doing schoolwork. One-of-a-kind clothes punctuate the center of the space, surrounded by shelves of jewelry, toys and trinkets.
There’s also a back room where Acosta-Isengard keeps the gallery. It’s not a huge space. Still, a few dozen pieces line the walls in a range of styles and persuasions. She calls the overarching theme of the gallery “cute culture.” Sometimes that’s just the way you would imagine—bright, bubbly colors and happy shapes or faces—but other works marry the aesthetic with something darker—a pink cartoon bear covered in bloody wounds, for instance. They tend to have a youthful, Japanese feel.
Acosta-Isengard’s favorite at the moment—although she is hesitant to tell me because, she emphasizes, she loves all her artists—is a massive construction made almost entirely of puzzle pieces. Thickly layered over about 6 square feet, there must be tens of thousands of individual pieces on the canvas. Acosta-Isengard says it took the artist two years to finish. It’s called “The Big Peace,” by Ramona Teo, with some help from Kae Sumrall.
Acosta-Isengard began finding her stock by visiting gallery openings around town and networking. After her store opened, artists started coming to her, and now that’s how she now gets most of her inventory. She says she takes 99 percent of the locally made clothing and jewelry she sees, although she’s more selective when it comes to hanging art. At the moment, she estimates Panda Robot is home to about 45 artists. The gallery/shop has already grown significantly since this summer, and she’d like to continue expanding as quickly as finances allow. “If I had the money,” she says, “I’d be broke from buying so much art.”
Acosta-Isengard lets artists set their own prices, and she gives them 60 percent of the sale. Some shirts are marked as low at $10, while “The Big Peace” is tagged for $5,000.
If you’re an artist, stop by Panda Robot to show Acosta-Isengard your stuff. And if you like dressing yourself and your home in exclusive designs, you owe yourself a visit.