The Umanov-Collings Uke Collection
Several years ago, on a particular day, John Sebastian, a friend since we we were much younger, stopped by and one of our long discussions on this and that eventually turned to ukuleles. I asked John if he would like to peek at “the collection”, specifically that of cool older ukes, all of them originally sold in the 1920s-50s as inexpensive instruments, mostly via mail-order catalogs, and every single one of them with some kind of image painted on, usually palm trees, Hula girls, sailboats, cowboys and the like. I had stored them all in a walk-in closet, on shelves, and over the years the stacks of them kept building, and building, until there were nearly a hundred of them. It was a yes of course, and so we traipsed upstairs, opened the closet door, and as I reached for one on a top shelf……..UKALANCHE!!! They came cascading down, nearly burying me. Since those things are nearly indestructible they all survived as did we, after a good laugh. John was accompanied at the time by the Maysles brothers, documentary filmmakers supreme, but I never did ask if they had captured "The Ukalanche" on film.
Cut to several years later when another dear friend, Bill Collings of Collings Guitars, stopped by, asking to see some of a matching collection of guitars I had, totally filling a disused freight elevator car in my basement. It turned out that Bill was doing research for what eventually became his Waterloo series of guitars. I tried and tried to sell Biill the entire collection, all 102 of ‘em, but no soap. What he did want though was the uke collection, and I figured that there was no more deserving person in the world to have them. What Bill did with them though was a total surprise, and a humbling and heart-warming thing: he mounted the entire collection, all eight-eight of ‘em, on a wall, prominently displayed in the offices of his factory in Austin, Texas, along with a beautiful plaque with the entirety of the writeup I had done of it, writ large, for my website before Bill bought it. I can think of no finer tribute that anyone could ever have given me. We lost Bill to cancer in 2017, but his legacy lives on in all the stunningly beautiful instruments he was responsible for building, and which continue to be built right there in Austin, Texas. Thank you, Bill, for so much.