Making Magic | Popular Woodworking Magazine
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Don’t fool yourself that Lupe Nielsen’s creative passions are filled with magic and a little sawdust.
As a professional carpenter and magical props creator from the world’s magic capital, Las Vegas, NV, Nielsen calls herself a “general practitioner” of woodworking.
“There is a lot to do and a lot to learn,” he laughs.
Nielsen’s background is in theater and magic and he has been performing since he was four. Despite her love of her performances, she was an introvert and eventually gravitated to the behind-the-scenes areas of productions doing set work, stage management, and lighting.
Nielsen eventually went to college and took a carpentry job at a local opera house while completing his undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech. During his final semester, another twist of fate would change his course when he noticed that the local Busch Gardens amusement park was hiring wizards.
“They paid pretty well, so I auditioned and got hired on site,” explains Nielsen.
She spent seven years working as a sorceress in Northern Virginia, but still took up woodworking jobs and in 1993 she started working for a company that made magical props. Nielsen thought she had found the perfect marriage between her love of woodworking and magic, but life had another ace up its sleeve for her.
In 1995 Nielsen moved to Las Vegas and began a relationship with her late husband, magician and producer of magical props Norm Nielsen.
“We were very compatible, even in our acts. Norm performed in big plays and I in close-ups with partners, ”shares Nielsen.
From there, the Nielsens spent years traveling and making exquisite magical props sold around the world. Eventually Norm retired and in 2010 Lupe took a year off to hone her woodworking skills. During this time he discovered that he had a real passion for making furniture.
“I love flat work,” he explains.
Nielson was also inspired by excellent, quality work, and saw the difference it made: “This 1890 propeller was the best I’ve seen in a long time. It had a wooden spring mechanism. It allowed the wood to expand and contract and the grain was oriented. No wonder he was 120, he was gorgeous! “
Lupe applies the same high standards to her work and is one of only 10 producers of magical props in the world, and arguably the only woman. He shares snippets of his creation process on social media, most recently showing the work behind his Block Trick.
The Block Trick is a self-described “Okito-Nielsen style” magic trick that features a beautifully decorated bright green tube that holds a small, solid sheet of cross-shaped plexiglass. Somehow, the plexiglass is then mysteriously penetrated by a solid wooden cube which is pushed through the tube. Only 40 of these props were made early on and quickly sold out.
Nielsen’s experience in realizing the impossible has also bolstered his confidence in its furniture making capabilities. He doesn’t hesitate to incorporate angles into his pieces such as his largest to date, a seven foot tall black walnut bookcase.
“It had more square footage than any other piece I’ve done, it took a long time. It was like putting a puzzle together, “he shares.
He also often collaborates with his neighbor, who happens to be a big illusion maker and welder. He says their collaboration is a good fit, as it assists him with detailed woodworking tasks for his larger props.
Nielsen attributes his passion for learning and improving his technical skills as the strength behind the growth of his work: “Improving myself is so important. In the future you will improve and the more you know, you will be able to tackle a problem and be a better designer to know the different techniques and options “.
She is particularly inspired by the makers who are dedicated to replicating the same object as the 52 box designs that many makers share on social media.
“It’s something for you to improve in a technique. Replicate and then find your voice is easier. The more you know, the freer your mind is to work with your medium, “he shares.
Nielsen is currently working on another batch of the popular Block Tricks, and in the near future he plans to continue honing his fine woodworking skills by taking a few courses at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.
His best advice for other carpenters is to “learn everything”. Wise words from a producer whose creative journey has taken them around the world and beyond.
You can follow Nielsen on Instagram at @ nnmagic.lupe and see more of his work at www.nnmagic.com
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