This week's Q&A is with artist and professor Frankie Flood, the man behind those amazing pizza cutters we've seen surface online throughout the years. —The Mgmt.
Name: Frankie Flood
Occupation: Acting head of Jewelry and Metalsmithing at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
You're head of the Jewelry and Metalsmithing Department at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and took a master's degree at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in metals. So that explains your skill in executing these cutters, huh?
I am currently acting area head of the Jewelry and Metalsmithing area at the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. I previously was Director of Foundations which is the first year program for Visual Art students. I took a new position when one of my colleagues went on sabbatical. I did in fact receive my Master of Fine Art degree in Metal from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
I think I read somewhere that you were inspired to create them when a pizza delivery guy rode up to your place on a motorcycle. True?
No, this isn't true.
The real inspiration came from the history of metalsmithing and the role of the metalsmith in today's society. At one time there was an array of specific cooking utensils made for specific functions in the preparation of certain dishes. A typical service ware set might include an entire range of specialized utensils and each one would be used for task. I had found myself questioning what my role was as a metalsmith in society and what utensil best represented this shift in thinking and practice.
Harley-Davidson was founded and has headquarters in Milwaukee. Do draw inspiration from those hogs or is your motorcycle influence pan-bike?
I have always had a deep appreciation for anything two wheeled and mechanical. I grew up working on many different kinds of old motorcycles so my inspiration isn't brand specific. My inspiration is grounded in the one of a kind creations of people who make things by hand in their home workshops. There's just something about someone honing their skills and working toward a final goal that they themselves own.
I also still work on restoring old motorcycles. I currently ride a '72 Moto Guzzi.
Some of your cutters seem to go beyond motorcycle references. What other objects or ideas influence your cutters?
The other references come from the old industrial tools that I use as well as the experiences I had growing up. My father was a factory worker, but in his spare time he was always making something. He would often make tools from discarded parts and then he would construct something with those tools. For a large portion of my childhood, he made custom knives as a hobby. My pizza cutters are assembled in a manner which one might expect from knife-making. The old tools that I use to manually machine components as well as the processes I employ constantly inform the work and aesthetics in some manner.
Your cutters are at once sculptural and functional. This is an obvious question, but have you ever used them to actually cut pizza? I imagine you keeping one or two in the kitchen drawer for pizza night.
I have in fact used all but one of the cutters to cut pizza. It is important that these utensils function as this is the tradition from which I work. They are a joy to use but they can be a bit difficult to clean. They are durable though, so they can handle the cleaning. I actually do not own one of my own high end cutters for daily use, as I can't seem to keep them for long periods of time. I use a modified cutter that I made while I was in grad school, but it is a combination of found parts with a custom stainless steel handle.
I'm sure a lot of readers would like to know if they're for sale.
The cutters are for sale, but currently I have a waiting list. Due to the fact that each one is one of a kind, it takes me a great deal of time to complete each one. I am currently looking into the viability of creating a limited production run of one of my designs, but I don't want to jeopardize the custom quality that my pizza cutters have.
On that note, I'd imagine pizza-obsessed folks contacting you to buy them. Anyone notable? Say, the CEO of a national or local pizza chain?
I have received a lot of responses to my work, but so far most people who have purchased them are knife collectors and not solely pizza-obsessed individuals. No CEO's as of yet.
When did you make the first one? I think I first saw them go viral on the web in 2005. Do they predate even that?
I made the first pizza cutter ("Easy Rider") in 2001 [above] while I was in graduate school. I have made several different designs every year since then. It wasn't until 2005 that I created a web presence for myself and since then I have been getting a lot of exposure.
Related, about once a year since then, some blog picks up on them and they go viral again. I always get a little miffed on your behalf, because half the blogs that post pictures of your cutters fail to link to your site. Does that ever bother you or are you just happy to have your work getting the attention it deserves?
Yes, it seems that every so often I receive some press from an exhibition or someone picks up something new from my website and it spreads. I don't usually worry about the lack of credit. I assume that if people are interested that they will be eventually be drawn to the source. I'm just doing what I love to do and receiving the opportunity to share my passion of making with anyone who sees, owns, or uses one of my pizza cutters.
Do your family, friends, and students know about your online fame?
I don't really feel like I have online fame. Some pictures of my work were spread across the net and I'm just fortunate enough to get to share what I do with more people than I normally would. My family, friends, and students know that I am passionate about making, but I'm not sure if they know about the blog exposure that the cutters have received. I kind of like it that way.
You live in Milwaukee, right? Whitefish Bay? (I googled around ... http://crafthaus.ning.com/profile/FrankieFlood) Where's your favorite pizzeria in the area?
I really enjoy Zaffiro's Pizza and Pizza Man here in Milwaukee (although Pizza Man recently burned down). Some of the best pizza in my opinion is unfortunately not in my backyard. There are a few other locations that I really enjoy, such as Cimino's in Pecatonica, Illinois, and Papa Del's on Green Street in Champaign, Illinois. But my favorite place to eat pizza is small pizzeria called Pank's Pizza in a small town called Greenup, Illinois, near my hometown. It just so happens that my in-laws own the place.
What style of pizza do you prefer?
I go through phases, but I used to be a thin-crust-only kind of guy, but Papa Del's converted me to deep dish when I was in grad school due to its heavy lunch slices. But as of late I have been favoring thin crust. I like to change it up though ... depends on my mood.
What toppings do you usually order?
I'm a traditional pepperoni and extra cheese kind of guy. Keep the pizza simple.
When I think of Wisconsin and pizza, I think of Ian's. Ever had the mac and cheese slice there?
No, I haven't but now you have me interested. I'll have to check it out. Where is it located?
The original is in Madison, but there's one in Milwaukee on North Avenue between Farwell and Prospect avenues.