Dennis Carroll Barbara Lenihan and Betsy Hackman, owners of Pandora's in Sanbusco Market Center, began with a few pillows from Slovakia and a few sheets from New York. Ten years later, they are doing a bustling business in handwoven bed and bath items created from textiles garnered from around the world.
"We have always been kind of doing our own thing with the fabrics," said Lenihan, who has seen the sun rise and set in as many places as nearly anyone.
Lenihan, originally a down-home girl from central Illinois who once worked on a fishing boat in Alaska, travels the globe in search of natural textiles woven in fair-trade co-ops and markets.
Pandora's helps support individual weavers and co-ops in Vietnam, Laos, Peru, Mexico, Japan and Portugal. All ensure living wages for the weavers and other artists and help build and sustain healthy, economically viable communities, Lenihan said.
"I like to know where the money goes," said Lenihan.
Recent finds include flaming-pink silk from a co-op in southern India, kimonos from Vietnam, brightly striped bath towels from Portugal, arty Kuba fabrics from Africa, and handwoven sarape and saltillo from Oaxaca, Mexico.
"I kind of travel all over," Lenihan said of her search for organic, natural fibers such as cotton, wool, bamboo, silk and linen. "We don't do polyesters."
Lenihan also makes contacts with textile artists from around the world at Santa Fe's yearly International Folk Art Market on Museum Hill. She recently began buying cloth from Uzbekistan weavers she met at the market.
"Not only are we employing a lot of local people," Lenihan said, "but we are helping co-ops and their communities around the world."
Back in Santa Fe, Lenihan and Hackman hire local seamstresses to create a wide variety of plush bedroom accouterments from the fabrics collected from the far corners of the world. Scattered throughout Pandora's are duvet covers, bedspreads, pillows, shams, bed skirts, throw rugs and quilts, to name but a few items.
Added to the colorful mix are handwoven throws created by Santa Fe weaver and Lenihan friend Gretel Underwood.
Pandora's also sells work by local artisans such as Kathy O'Neil's tin ornaments and shrines and Christine Drumright's eye pillows and sachets, as well as locally made soaps and lotions.
Hackman, wife of actor Gene Hackman, said she strives to infuse Santa Fe art into the life of the shop.
"There is wonderful art in Santa Fe but I liked the idea of having it be part of the everyday utilitarian art, where people could use it in their daily living; that's what intrigued me about the idea of Pandora's," Hackman said.
A visit to Pandora's is truly a visual feast — eye-popping colors shout from the walls lined with quilts and throws, and from the racks of the kimonos, silk pajamas, and woolen bathrobes. The woven colors of the saltillos and sarape from Oaxaca bounce from floor to ceiling.
Lenihan assistant Kristen Cassidy said customers often bring in their own fabrics to have them transformed into pillows, sheets or other bed and bath items.
"We can basically build you a bed from the bottom up," Cassidy said.
Pandora's is a natural stop for visiting movie makers and other luminaries. "Sometimes a director will come in to buy gifts for the actors or crew," Lenihan said.
Other high-end patrons have been Santa Fe's "second- and third-home people," she said. "That has been a good customer base for us."
However, Lenihan noted that the store also features more moderately priced items. "It's not just high end," she said. "There's something for everyone."
The 1,000-square-foot store is Pandora's third location in the Sanbusco center, the store moving to larger quarters as the business has grown over the past 10 years.
A slumping economy has recently curtailed Lenihan's globe-trotting shopping trips. "I went to Oaxaca, but that may be it for this year."
However, she still plans to travel to Dallas, New York and Atlanta for textile trade shows, and in coming years expects to make trips to South America and Eastern Europe.
"I am always guided by great textiles," she said."