The Art of the Handcrafted Ukulele

01/22/2015 12:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

They call it "Twitch."

It's named for a beloved cat left behind long ago in Richmond, Va., before a seminal move to the West Coast.

It's an intricately constructed, handmade ukulele, painted exquisitely in a style that defies definition.

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"Twitch," by Amy Crehore and Lou Reimuller

Years in the making, it's only the third in a series that the Oregon-based team of artist Amy Crehore and luthier Lou Reimuller have created for their "Tickler" collection.

"It's a carryover from my paintings with nudes and cats and monkeys, along the lines of what I've been doing all along," says Crehore, whose work has appeared in exhibitions coast-to-coast -- and in the pages of The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Texas Monthly.

It was built by Reimuller, her partner. "He worked on it part time in his off hours, a step at a time to get it the way we wanted," she says. "It was a labor of love."

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"Twitch," by Amy Crehore and Lou Reimuller

Indeed. Reimuller used a number of kinds of woods, some commonplace and others very obscure. There's mahogany on the sides, and another iridescent, figured mahogany on the back -- one that glows and shimmers when held to the light.

The ears of the "Twitch" cat fit neatly into the shape of the headstock, a unique Crehore design. The quality maple top was thinned, so that the sound of the instrument is very responsive. And Crehore used oil paint directly onto the maple, sealing it with polyurethane varnish.

Reimuller found another wood called "stabilized green dyed figured maple" at a knife show, one that he sliced from a block and used for the end graft and the heel cap.

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"Twitch," by Amy Crehore and Lou Reimuller

Not to mention the little sculpted bow tie:

"He polished the bow tie so it almost looks like malachite," she says. "The bridge is ebony. He carved it -- it's a mustache bridge, that's what it is, and it's my design."

Their collaboration might not be an obsession, but it could be called something of a compulsion, if a deliberate and highly sophisticated one.

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"Twitch," by Amy Crehore and Lou Reimuller

"It's like inventing something and using Lou's skills, because he's kind of a sculptor too, and I'm a painter," she says. "We're merging music, cats, instruments and the history of art and design -- and it comes out as this uke."

And a one-of-a-kind one, at that.

For more information, go here.

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes a digital design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com, where portions of this post first appeared. He is also the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand," due out from Routledge Press this spring.