Make no illusions that Lupe Nielsen’s creative passions are filled with magic and a little bit of sawdust.
As a woodworker and professional magic prop maker from the magic capital of the world, Las Vegas, NV, Nielsen calls herself a “general practitioner” of woodworking.
“There’s lots to do and lots to learn,” she laughs.
Nielsen’s background is in theatre and magic and she has been performing since she was four-years-old. Despite her love for her acts, she was an introvert and eventually gravitated to the backstage 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 she completed her undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech. During her last semester, another twist of fate would alter her course of direction when she noticed local amusement park Busch Gardens was hiring magicians.
“They were paying quite well, so I auditioned and was hired on the spot,” explains Nielsen.
She spent seven years working as a magician in Northern Virginia, but still took on odd carpentry jobs, and in 1993 she began working for a company that made magic props. Nielsen thought she had found the perfect marriage of her love for woodworking and magic, but life had yet another trick up its sleeve for her.
In 1995 Nielsen moved to Las Vegas and began a relationship with her late husband, magician, and magic prop maker Norm Nielsen.
“We were very compatible, even in our acts. Norm would do the large stage acts and I did the close-up, partner acts,” shares Nielsen.
From there the Nielsens spent years traveling and making fine magic props that were sold all over the world. Eventually Norm retired, and in 2010 Lupe took a year off to hone her skills in woodworking. During this time she discovered that she had a real passion for furniture making.
“I love the flat work,” she explains.
Nielson was also inspired by fine, quality work, and saw the difference it made, “This one prop from 1890, it was the best prop I had seen in a long time. It had a spring mechanism made out of wood. It allowed for expansion and contraction of the wood, and the grain was oriented. No wonder it was 120 years old, it was magnificent!”
Lupe applies the same high standards to her own work, and is one of only 10 fine magic prop makers in the world, and likely the only woman. She shares snippets of her making process on social media, most recently showcasing the work behind her Block Trick.
The Block Trick is a handcrafted and self-described “Okito-Nielsen style” magic trick that features a beautifully decorated bright green tube that holds a small, solid sheet of plexiglass cross-wise. Somehow, the plexiglass is then mysteriously penetrated by a solid cube of wood that is pushed through the tube. Only 40 of these props were made in the initial run and quickly sold out.
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Nielsen’s experience in making the impossible happen has also boosted her confidence in her furniture making skills. She doesn’t hesitate to incorporate angles into her pieces like her largest to date, a seven-foot tall black walnut bookcase.
“It had more square footage than any other piece I’ve made, it was time consuming. It was like putting a puzzle together,” she shares.
She also frequently collaborates with her neighbor down the street, who happens to be a large illusion maker and welder. She says their partnership is a good fit, as she assists him with detailed woodworking tasks for his larger props.
Nielsen attributes her fascination with learning and improving her technical skills as the force behind the growth in her work, “Improving myself is so important. You get better and the more you know in the future, you’ll be able to tackle a problem and be a better designer for knowing the different techniques and options.”
She is particularly inspired by makers who dedicate themselves to replicating the same object such as the 52 box projects many makers share on social media.
“It’s something for yourself to get better at a technique. Replicate, and then finding your own voice is easier. The more you know, the more your mind is set free to work with your medium,” she shares.
Currently Nielsen is working on another batch of the popular Block Tricks, and in the near future she plans to continue to hone her fine woodworking skills by attending a few classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.
Her best advice to other woodworkers is to “Learn everything.” Wise words from a maker whose creative journey has taken them around the world, and beyond.
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