There is a portrait of Lucy Ferguson hanging on the wood-paneled walls in the living room at Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island. I love a lot of portraits, but this one stands out not just for the amazing details of the image — her green dress, her head scarf, the knife that sits on the holster of her belt — but because I am lucky enough to know the granddaughter of Lucy, Gogo Ferguson, and that makes me feel a small connection to this woman who looms so large in my imagination. Lucy was a preservationist and seems to have been a very powerful matriarch given the portrait and its placement at the inn, which is literally the only commercial establishment on the island. Lucy was one of those Carnegies – industrialists breeding naturalists – and her granddaughter Gogo is a force just as powerful. My first impulse is to say that she is one of a kind, but as with a lot of families, I think it’s more that she is part of a few of a kind. Regardless… she is special and I want to tell you about her.
There is no Gogo without Cumberland Island… so let me start there. Cumberland is a remote island and nature preserve on the coast of Georgia with the most fantastic history. You can read all about it from people who write about travel for a living (it is included in the 7th issue of the ever-wonderful Yolo Journal, or better yet, go visit and see for yourself if you are not afraid of a few mosquitos, which are well worth the magic of the place. I personally came home from our visit there with chigger bites and mosquito bites after a long walk with Sid looking for his glasses, which had gotten snapped up by a giant tree tendril when he insisted on riding his bike along the hiking trail. I am not kidding. It was like the Wizard of Oz. Cumberland has its own Maritime Forest, where the trees sit between sand dunes and salt marshes, and it is unlike any other place on earth… at least anyplace I have visited.
Gogo got to grow up on this magical island. Her family has been there for generations, and she chose to remain and raise her own daughter. The beauty and roughness of the Georgia coast has always been part of her story. Her family valued nature and wasn’t afraid to embrace it… living within it rather than pushing it all away (thus the mosquito bites.) The views of the ocean tend to get all the love when it comes to beaches, but all the things that come with the water — bugs, crabs, alligators, and even the animals farther back in the woods just beyond the sand like the possums and the snakes and the birds… those creatures are revered. So much so that the bits of them left behind were part of the prized collections of Gogo’s family. Bones, shells, feathers… high art found in the low country.
So I have set up her background and her upbringing, but what Gogo really does is make incredible jewelry cast from the wonders that she has been collecting for so many years. She is an artist with a vision – and in my opinion it would be impossible for her to do anything else. So in awe of these shapes and marvels that the only way to hold on to them forever is to set them in beautiful precious metals. “Nature transformed,” as she puts it.
And you and I get to wear them. I have a few of her pieces but my favorite is a necklace of gold cast from seaweed. There are rattlesnake cuffs made from the ribs of a snake… sea algae earrings… she even designed a necklace just for us that was cast from the petals from wildflowers found on Martha’s Vineyard. (Another place she roots around in the summer… Cumberland gets REALLY hot around then.) My daughter described Gogo as both “wild and sophisticated.” Wow. To me that is Gogo… that is Lucy… and that is how I like to think of myself when I am wearing her pieces. Try one on. you will see. The desire to forage and collect and own your inspiration is familiar to so many of us. Who didn’t have a box filled with acorns or pebbles or the cracked shell of a robin’s egg? Even just collecting seashells… the most traditional vacation pastime of them all.
And I am not the only one who is so mesmerized by Gogo’s world and her creations. Her line has been around for over thirty years but has remained under the radar in a very cool way, despite having a real star-studded fanbase: Wes Anderson owns pieces, as does Isabella Rossellini, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Hillary Clinton. A Gogo piece is the total opposite of a Love Bracelet in that way… but to me, just as iconic. She even designed the wedding rings for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette and helped them coordinate the ceremony in the tiny church on the island. Talk about under the radar.
And our Dallas store is part of the fan club, too — Gogo and her team are actually visiting that shop in our newish location on Cole Avenue tomorrow for a special trunk show… she came a few years ago and we had so much fun. I am not able to join this time around, but if you are in Dallas, go visit and see for yourself how magnetic and wonderful she is.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day and I am remembering my own mother, who once sat next to me painting lake rocks and driftwood in Minnesota. I am inspired by Gogo, by Lucy, by my daughter Daisy, my very own naturalist, in whose pockets I was always finding bits of tiny wonders she found just by looking down. I gave her a pocket knife for her 10th birthday, and I think she would have loved to have worn it on her waist just like that portrait of Lucy. You need a bit of this. I promise.