Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Real to Reel

Hollywood's got nothing on my mom. 
The 25 8-millimeter films above are all Joyce Friese productions, shot on an old Kodak Brownie movie camera between 1963 and 1973.
Isn't she cute? Mom didn't own the movie camera yet (in fact, she wasn't even a mom yet) when the above photo was taken (I believe in my Grandma and Grandpa Harmsen's kitchen). She would have only been 19 years old and married to my dad for just over a year in 1956.

I think my sister has Mom's Brownie still camera (from the picture) today; but the movie camera no longer exists. The manual that came with it, though, was packed away in the same cardboard box that Mom stored the family movies in.
It's a treat to page through (even though it's not in the best of shape). 
It's filled with lots of photos and diagrams explaining how to use the camera.
It even offers instructions on how to take a movie selfie.
Judging by the dates on the film boxes, it seems Mom was at her most prolific in the early to mid '60s. (She also gave birth to four kids between 1959 and 1966, so it's probably understandable that her filmmaking trailed off a bit over the years.)
For the most part, the films are pretty standard family movie fare, featuring highlights of birthdays and baptisms, holidays and hay-making.  

The production values are a bit lacking, and there is no sound to speak of. (Literally. They're all silent movies.) The early ones are in black and white. But they're a piece of our family history, and I am so glad Mom documented the important events in our lives.
When we'd have family movie nights when I was a kid, we'd sometimes watch the films forward and backward (because they had to be rewound back onto the original reel anyway). My brothers and sister and I thought it was the funniest thing in the world to watch the movies of Dad and Grandpa Friese mowing and baling hay in reverse.
Most of the films are on small reels, but a couple are on larger ones that can hold up to 400 feet of film (which takes about half an hour to watch). 
Mom used a splicer to cut out the parts of the films that didn't turn out and also to combine a number of the smaller reels onto one larger one, so we wouldn't have to constantly be changing reels when we watched the movies.
The splicer is still with us, in the box with the movies, and in like-new condition.

Also in the box were a few of these "You're the Director" pamphlets that the Kodak lab must have included when they sent back the processed film. 
Even though my mom was the filmmaker in the family, my dad's name appears on the "customer" line on the form that was attached to each box when the film was sent out to be developed. 
Mom always bought film at Stoffel's Drug Store on Main Street in Waupun. The movie camera and projector that we used to view the films came from Stoffel's, too. I have no recollection of Stoffel's, but my oldest brother remembers it. I looked online in Waupun and state historical archives for information about the store but didn't find much there. But once again eBay came through for me; that's where I found this postcard:
It shows Main Street in Waupun, in what I'm guessing was the 1960s, judging by the cars. (There's no date on the postcard.) The Stoeffel Drug Store sign is hanging on the south side of Main Street in the building that Radio Shack is in today.

My parents also bought their first Polaroid camera from Stoffel's, and the clerk who waited on them took a picture of my dad and my sister in the store to show them the miracles of the Polaroid Land Camera. (You snapped a picture, pulled it out of the camera, waited 60 seconds and then peeled the paper off and, voila: instant photo.) I believe that picture still exists somewhere in the Friese family archives, but I looked high and low through my mom's house last weekend and couldn't find it. I would have loved to have included it in this post, because in addition to featuring Dad in his cool horn-rimmed glasses, the photo offered a glimpse of the inside of the store back in the day.

Mom gave the old projector to my son recently, and he has it displayed in his movie-themed apartment (which I blogged about here). 
Unfortunately we haven't watched the movies in a long time because the bulb in the projector is burnt out. But I have been scouring eBay for replacement bulbs in between writing this post, and it looks like there are a few out there. So hopefully we can revisit some of Mom's best work (like "Summer of '69" and "Lisa's Baptism") again soon.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Birds of a Feather

Dear Readers,

If you ended up here after typing "Wisconsin Magpie" into a search engine in hopes of finding information about an elusive ornithological species -- and now you're wondering why you're up to your binoculars in stories about a woman buying other people's detritus and building robots in her basement -- I apologize.

Allow me to explain.

But first, let me say, this is NOT a Wisconsin Magpie:

It's just a pretty picture of a bird to break up the text.

Wisconsin Magpie is the name I gave to this blog after months of painstaking research, hours of quiet contemplation and a few too many glasses of merlot. (Mostly the merlot.)

Setting aside the merlot (carefully, so it doesn't spill), I would like to point out that my naming options were limited. By the time I started this blog, all of the really great domain names -- Funky JunkChronically VintageShanty-2-ChicRemodelaholicDesign Sponge -- were already taken.

Most of the really awful blog names (which I won't list here because we Midwesterners are too gosh darn polite to talk smack like that) were also taken.

Incidentally, this is not a Wisconsin Magpie either:
In fact, it's entirely possible that "Wisconsin Magpie" was the only domain name still available in 2015. (Evidently I arrived late to this blogging game, as I do to most things in life.)

Fortunately for me, Wisconsin Magpie pretty accurately sums up what this blog is about: I'm a Wisconsin girl through and through, and I like to collect odd things for my nest, much as I have heard the birds of the same name do.

Here's another pretty picture that is also not of a Wisconsin Magpie:
In addition to our passion for collecting, there are other similarities between me and my feathered friends. For example, we are both attracted to shiny objects, we're both a bit territorial and we're both smart enough to be able to recognize ourselves in a mirror (unless, of course, one of us has been dipping our beak into the merlot again).

Furthermore, bird magpies are known for their screechy, squawky, annoying call. And anybody who's ever had the misfortune to sit next to me at St. Jerome's on Sunday morning knows that that is also an accurate description of my singing voice.

This is a turkey in a hat:
So to the visitors who came here expecting to read about home decor, thrift store finds and vintage collectibles, I'm sorry for boring you with this (scientifically suspect) ornithological lesson.

And to the confused birders who bothered to read all the way to the end of this post and still don't know why you're here, I would like to apologize once more for leading you astray with the name of my blog.

But I hope you both will come back and visit again sometime because this is the only place where you can learn about the peculiar nesting habits of the (human) Wisconsin Magpie.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Setting the Scene

Along time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....

now showing sign

... by which I mean, in August of 2014, in Milwaukee ....


... my son and his girlfriend moved into their first apartment together and decided to decorate it in a movie theater theme.

I made the Now Showing sign for them that I blogged about earlier. Everything else they made or bought themselves.

Yes, those are genuine red velvet theater seats around the dining room table.


JT and Anna bought them from an old theater that had gone out of business. The chairs were still bolted to the floor and attached to the adjacent seats when they went to buy them, so they had to do a little disassembly work before they could even take them home.


JT built a platform for each chair out of 2x4s and attached casters to the platforms. Then Anna gave the wood and metal parts a fresh coat of gold paint. The seats are a little banged up in spots from years of wear and tear, but they still flip open and closed.

The casters make the chairs easy to move, so they can be pulled away from the table and wheeled over to the big screen for extra seating there.


The curtains were fashioned out of tablecloths and tacked to the wall.

Opposite the screen, JT built a shelving unit that holds their projector.


He hooked their surround sound, GameCube, XBox, computer and TV cable into it.

The rest of the shelving unit holds a mix of modern equipment, movies and vintage memorabilia.


I made the clapboard as a prop for a kids 4-H play I wrote and directed a few year back. The old film reels were picked up at garage sales and thrift stores over the years. (There are more sprinkled throughout the apartment.) And the vintage movie projector on the right belonged to my parents when I was a kid.

The inside cover of the old projector, which still has the operating instructions attached to it, is displayed on another shelf.


The projector still works, but the bulb is burnt out. (Anybody know where you can buy replacement bulbs for vintage equipment?)

In addition to the old projector, my mom gifted JT with a whole box full of family movies that date from 1963 to 1972. (I forsee another blog post about those coming soon.)

Kodak 8 millimeter film

Elsewhere in the apartment, JT and Anna have an old-time snack bar set up.

home theater

Anna found the piece in an antique mall. It was originally a jewelry display case. When she bought it, it was painted a light blue, and some of the glass was missing. She replaced the glass, added shelves, cleaned it up and painted it black, then filled it with traditional movie snacks.


They also have a retro popcorn maker (it's new; it just looks old) ...

home theater

... and lots of other small film-related items, like this miniature projector:

vintage pencil sharpener

 It's actually a pencil sharpener. (The sharpener part is on the back.) For a miniature, it's got a lot of great details: The reels on the top even spin.



Did I mention JT is a film major?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Now Showing: The Making of a Movie Theater Sign

With Hollywood abuzz about the Oscars next week, I thought this would be the perfect time to show off the Now Showing sign I made (with a little help from my husband).

home theater

The sign was actually a gift for our cinephile son who was moving into his first apartment and wanted to decorate it in a movie theater theme. He had looked into buying a sign online first, but the prices were too high for his college-student budget.

Then I looked into buying one for him, but the prices were too high for my newspaper-designer budget. (One website said, "List Price: $1,658. Our Price: $1,499 & Free Shipping!" Apparently, this was a good deal?)

I studied the pictures we found online. They didn't look all that complicated: just wide frames with lights around the perimeters. "How hard could it be to make one?" I thought. (Turns out, it was pretty hard.)


The project started off easily enough. I found a 24" x 36" wooden frame in a thrift store for $3. I bought it, hoping that that was the default size for movie posters. It was. So far, so good.

Then I found round patio lights at Target that were the style I needed. I was on a roll.


From here, things got a lot more complicated.

As my thrift store frame was only 2" wide around the edges, it wasn't beefy enough to hold a row of lights. No problem, I thought. I will just glue the thrift store frame onto a piece of plywood a few inches wider and taller than the frame and drill holes for the lights into the plywood, like so:



I found a scrap piece of 1/2-inch plywood in my husband's workshop that looked like it would work.

At this point, my husband, who, I would like to point out, is much more supportive of my hair-brained schemes than he really should be, wandered in. He looked over my  thrift store frame, my lights, my plywood and my plan.

He liked the frame and the lights. The heavy plywood and the half-baked plan, not so much.

He suggested a few alterations and drew up a new plan that called for a frame of 1x4's attached to a thin, lightweight backer board, then a frame of 1x3's sitting on top of that, creating a ledge that the thrift store frame could rest on. He called it a sandwich. Here is a cutaway profile view of the new plan:

now showing sign

With his plan, the frame would be lighter weight, the light sockets would be supported and stand up straight, and the unused portion of the light string would be contained inside the enclosed back instead of just left to dangle. (In other words, his plan would actually work.)

Within an hour, we were in the husband's F150, en route to the local lumber yard to buy supplies. (See I told you: way too supportive. He enables this kind of behavior.)

Once we got home, we ran some of the 1x4's we'd bought through the table saw to rip them down to 3 inches in width. Then I cut those down to length with a miter saw. (My first time using a miter saw; it was very exciting.) Those pieces became the frame (pictured below) around the thrift store frame.

home theater

Then I cut the 1x4's down to length, creating the second, wider frame that would sit underneath the narrower one. 

home theater

Next it was time to make the holes for the lights. I had to do math (I hate doing math) to figure out the spacing of the lights. I marked where the holes would go in pencil on the 1x3's and then tacked the frame together, so I could drill all the way through the 1x3's and partway through the 1x4's underneath. 

home theater

When I was done drilling all the holes, I took the two layers apart again, so I could rout out channels on the bottom 1x4's to run the excess cord through. (Also my first time using a router; also very exciting.)

home theater

Isn't that ingenius? (I take no credit for it; the channels were all the husband's idea.)

home theater

To get around the corner, I just made sure the channels lined up from one piece to the next.

home theater

I needed 34 lights for the project. Target only had strings of 25 lights. So I bought two strings and left all of the unused sockets hang in the middle of the sandwich.

home theater

When all the lights were in place, I tacked the two layers of wood together again and then attached them permanently with finish nails.

Then I flipped the sandwich over and attached the backing.

home theater

After the backing was secured, I flipped the sandwich back over again and did a ton of sanding. (My miter cuts were not exactly precision accurate, as you can see below.) I stuffed tinfoil into the light sockets to keep the sawdust out.

home theater

All that was left to do after that was to paint all the wood gold and then attach the thrift store frame onto the top of the sandwich. The frame is attached with screws, so the poster can be swapped out easily if our son ever gets sick of Star Wars (not likely).

home theater

I was very nervous about the lights actually working after everything was done, but, happily, they all lit up.

home theater

 The tail of the green cord hanging down on the left really bothers me. The next time I'm at my son's apartment, I am either going to paint the cord white or his wall green, so it's not so noticeable.

now showing sign

I probably saved $1,399 by DIY'ing the sign vs. buying the On-Sale-With-Free-Shipping! version. But I now understand why the price was so high. This was not a simple project.


Linking up to:
Domestically Speaking
Elizabeth Joan Designs
Home Stories A to Z Tutorials & Tips
Miss Mustard Seed Furniture Feature Friday