Treasure Island

On Georgia’s Cumberland Island, a true treasure hunter presides, creating jewels from natural wonders, one precious find at a time.

Photos of the jewelry and Cumberland Island

By Mary Ashton Mills

On this remote Georgia island, one of the largest wilderness areas along the eastern seaboard, GoGo Ferguson, a slender, sinewy jewelry designer and fifth-generation Carnegie descendant forages for natural treasures.  Today her nature-inspired pieces are an internationally acclaimed, multi-million dollar jewelry business.

CALL OUT  “I get everything from Cumberland.  I have such a sense of place here, and from that comes my sense of design, part of my soul.”

She finds treasures along the beach and the acres of centuries-old live oaks, forests of palmettos, and thickets of resurrection fern. Shark teeth, fish and reptile skeletons, plants and other forms of wildlife, serve as inspiration for her art. Gogo’s natural instincts and keen sense of artistry can transform a rare Megalodon tooth or alligator scute into wearable treasures. Among her clientele are Jimmy Buffett and the late John Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. “I get everything from Cumberland,” she says. “I have a such a sense of place here, and from that comes my sense of design, part of my soul.” She has explored this beach since childhood summers spent on the island.  Even then, she enjoyed wearing small bones and shells.

A Grandmother’s Legacy

CALL OUT “Everything I know about Cumberland Island I learned from my grandmother.  Being with her was like spending time with Peter Pan.”

Ferguson’s childhood summers were spent learning to appreciate the island under the tutelage of her grandmother, Lucy Ferguson, granddaughter of the late Thomas Carnegie. In the 19th century, Thomas Carnegie purchased the island and built estates and guest houses for family members. Greyfield, a Gatsbyesque mansion, was originally built for Gogo’s great-grandmother Margaret Carnegie. The house has served as an inn since 1969. Photo of inn

At an early age, grandmother Lucy instilled a love of nature in Gogo, one that is precious to her today.  “She was so nurturing when we were young. She was the most wonderful teacher. It was almost like going out with Peter Pan.  She just instilled a sense of wonder in me,” says Gogo, recalling how Lucy made hunting for shark’s teeth or calling alligators a fun but important lesson.

Today her jewelry has come a long way from some of the very first pieces she designed.  She’s now casting the items and using 3-D imaging to create the jewelry in gold, silver, and other precious metals. .

Gogo divides her time between her home on Martha’s Vineyard and her home on Cumberland Island.  Her work can be seen in her galleries on St. Simons Island, Cumberland Island, and Martha’s Vineyard.  Visitors may stop in for cockleshell serving spoons, armadillo tail napkin rings, or sea kelp votives to adorn their tablescapes.   Shell cuffs, rattlesnake jawbone pendant necklaces, and a sea urchin ring are just a few items in a vast array of jewelry offerings.

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