Artist honored in textile contest with toile design inspired by Chattanooga

Artist honored in textile contest with toile design inspired by Chattanooga

March 20th, 2012 by Karen Nazor Hill in Life Entertainment

Pat Donovan smiles and poses with her award-winning fabric design that is based on her vision of Chattanooga.

Pat Donovan smiles and poses with her award-winning...

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


* Occupation: Artist.

* Age: 59.

* Family: Husband, Ken Kendell.

* Pet: Tummy Rubber, an Australian border collie.

* Favorite books: James Joyce short stories; "Perfume," by Patrick Suskind.

* Favorite movie: "The Big Lebowski"

* Favorite singer: Tom Waits

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

My dad, Jerry Donovan, was an aeronautical engineer. He was part of a team that was hired as contractors to research and design the suit for the Apollo 11 mission. He also worked on the landing gear system for the Apollo 11 [spacecraft] itself.

Small in stature, but prolific in creativity and passion, Pat Donovan's personality is as captivating as her Chattanooga toile design that took top honors in a recent international textile competition.

The competition, Your Town Toile, sponsored by Spoonflower, an online digital textile company located in Durham, N.C., required participants to create traditional French toile design symbolic of their home city. The computer-generated design was then transferred to fabric.

For the last six months, Donovan has called Chattanooga home.

A native of New Jersey who has lived in Pennsylvania for the last decade, Donovan and her husband, Ken Kendell, an attorney, moved to Chattanooga to help care for an ill relative.

"I've lived all over the world and, to me, Chattanooga reminds me of Silicon Valley but with a more fabulous landscape," said Donovan, who calls Chattanooga the best-kept secret in America.

Q: How did you depict Chattanooga in your design?

A: I started with a very traditional design, and it was boring. Then I thought I really wanted to show both Chattanooga and the world what this city looks like to me -- an outsider who is seeing it for the first time. I think sometimes if you live in an area you get complacent. My idea was to create an updated version of an old textile favorite. Since my background has always been a combination of fine arts and technology, I saw Chattanooga as a really advanced tech city.

I don't think most of the globe understands how advanced the city is. I also saw something even more interesting. Chattanooga has done the impossible task of fusing an older more amiable and charming culture with the 21st Century technology, and somehow they co-exist in harmony. I tip my hat to the local minds behind such creative planning.

Q: How did that idea translate visually?

A: I did not give the most famous landmark, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, as great a presence as some might hope. Instead, I concentrated on the staggering architecture, the natural beauty, the charm of an accessible downtown. And, if you look carefully, I give homage to tech by drawing a few laptops. At the last minute, I decided to add three Southern belles. I wanted to create a sense of the past admiring and being proud of the hard work of their descendants.

I have lived in Paris and Germany and, for most of my life, (I've) lived within an hour's drive of downtown Manhattan. Most people who have not traveled out of this area (Chattanooga) might not believe this, but Chattanooga holds its own against those places. To research my design, I went around Chattanooga and captured images with my iPhone. I went all sorts of places. I called my Pinterest board "An Artist Visits Chattanooga." It served as the references I drew from.

Q: Do you have a background in textile designs?

A: I am not a trained textile designer, but I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and have worked in a lot of mediums -- wood, metal, ceramics and resin. Spoonflower ( has been an outstanding opportunity for me as a designer. It allows both trained and amateur designers to create designs and have them printed as textiles.

Q: What feedback have you received about your award-winning design?

A: I entered my fabric in competition with hundreds of textile designers from around the world and placed in the Top 10. My fellow winners came from all points on the globe. I was happy to see Chattanooga's name among them. I have had really positive feedback, not just about my design, but about the city itself and people wanting to visit. The Chattanooga toile was displayed at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, a major venue for cutting-edge everything. The folks at Spoonflower were so excited about the Chattanooga toile that they wanted to display it at a workshop attended by some great tech developers, musicians and filmmakers. They told me it was the Hunter Museum and the kids with laptops (included in the design) that sold them.

Q: What do you plan to do with the design?

A: I saw a shiny Volkswagen the other day and thought, "How cool would that upholstery look if it was done in the Chattanooga toile?" Chattanooga is a city where you can let your imagination run wild. I hope people here appreciate what they have built. I also hope that Chattanoogans will visit Spoonflower and see the comments people from around the world have left. Spoonflower offers a variety of fabrics you can print on.