Interview with Deborah Blumenthal, author of FRANK WHO LIKED TO BUILD: THE ARCHITECTURE OF FRANK GEHRY

Welcome, Deborah Blumenthal! Deborah is the author of a new picture book biography, FRANK WHO LIKED TO BUILD: THE ARCHITECTURE OF FRANK GEHRY (Kar-Ben, 2022) illustrated by Maria Brzozowska. The book tells the story of famed architect Frank Gehry, known for his unique buildings all over the world. Featuring fantastic illustrations, lovely lyrical language, and inspiring anecdotes, FRANK WHO LIKED TO BUILD explores the life of a renowned figure. I am excited to learn more about this beautiful book.

How did you first develop an interest in Frank Gehry and his architecture?

I always loved Gehry’s work, but a few years back I noticed that no one had done a children’s book about him which surprised me since his buildings have such whimsical kid appeal, so I started my research.

Deborah Blumenthal

Can you share a bit about your research process for this story?

I started by reading Paul Goldberger’s wonderful biography, Building Art, and then watched the documentary, Sketches of Frank Gehry, directed by Sydney Pollack. After that I began reading articles and listening to video interviews with him.

In the book, you beautifully describe how Frank Gehry was influenced by his Jewish upbringing, like memories of baking challah with his grandmother. Did you uncover any other examples of his Jewish background influencing his work? 

A writer is always selective, and with picture books especially, you’re so limited in terms of word count so I used only key bits like playing with challah as if it were clay because it was very telling in terms of the process of how one makes art which is what the book is about. 

What were your thoughts when you first saw Maria Brzozowska’s beautiful illustrations?

I was delighted. I think they’re full of excitement and whimsy and I never get tired of looking at them.

Was there anything you were surprised to learn about Frank Gehry during your research? Or any anecdotes that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

Well he worked as a truck driver! That was a surprise.

But more to the essence of the book, there is so much wonderful material about Gehry and so many terrific quotes, like: “There’s a drive in us to express ourselves in some way or form. We pick up whatever material is available. It’s primitive. Kids see sand on the beach, build something and show their parents: “Look what I did, Mama. It’s necessary to us.”

Do you have a favorite Gehry building?

Hard question. I love the Guggenheim Bilbao, and the Bio Museo in Panama City covered with brilliant scraps of color. There’s also a hotel in Spain: The Marqués de Riscal Hotel, that I’d love to stay in.  

Thank you, Deborah!

Deborah Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and nutritionist, and the author of 27 books, most of them for children. She has been a regular contributor to The New York Times (including four years as the Sunday New York Times Magazine beauty columnist), and a home design columnist for Long Island Newsday. Her health, fitness, beauty, travel, and feature stories have appeared widely in many other newspapers and national magazines, including New York’s Daily News, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Self, and Vogue.

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