Cumberland Island, the southernmost of the Georgia barrier islands, is one of the world’s most secluded, pristine natural habitats. Occupying an area larger than Manhattan, the island boasts three ecosystems, including salt marshes, forest and miles of beach, where wild horses can often be observed running along the shores. Thomas M. Carnegie first purchased land on the island in the 1880s, and many descendants of the Carnegie family still live there today, including jewelry designer Gogo Ferguson. Having grown up on the island, Ferguson spent her formative years roaming the woodlands collecting fossils and fauna, a hobby she continues today and incorporates into such pieces as rattlesnake vertebrae earrings and armadillo tail–print cuffs. (The acclaimed jeweler, who designed the rings for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette’s 1996 union, now sells her nature-inspired pieces online and at the Indagare Souk.) Ferguson and her family also operate Greyfield Inn, the only on-island luxury accommodation, where guests are made to feel like home at the five-suite retreat.
Here, Gogo shares the inspiration behind her line and some of her favorite spots in her home away from home, Martha’s Vineyard.
Tell us a little about the history of Cumberland Island.
Cumberland Island has a rich history of inhabitants since as early as 2000 B.C., when aboriginals occupied the land. The Timucuan Indians and Spanish and English missionaries all resided there in the early 1700s. The first African Baptist church was built by freed slaves on the north end of Cumberland, which still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the late 1800s, the Carnegie family purchased the majority of the island, and descendants still have homes on the island. The Carnegies donated most of the island to create the Cumberland Island National Seashore in 1972. My family opened our home, Greyfield, as an inn in 1962.
How did you get started designing and what is your design process like?
I began designing with Cumberland Island in mind. My grandmother taught me how to look at nature with a different perspective, so I grew up marveling at the patterns of footprints in the sand, the never-ending gifts on the tideline and the perfection of color and pattern on a feather. I would explore for hours, collecting bones, shells, seed pods and anything that inspired me. My studio is filled with pieces I have found on my walks, some of which I cast in gold or silver, some that adorn my home and others that I use to create textiles. The sun bleached skeleton of a snake; spiral of a conch; pattern of an armadillo shell; each is so anatomically perfect and beautiful in its own way.
What are some of the most interesting fossils, animal bones and shells you’ve found?
There are not enough hours in the day for me to enjoy Cumberland. Fossil hunting was taught to me at a very young age and my home is filled with Megalodon shark teeth, wooly mammoth molars, Camel teeth and so much more. They are all treasures and the family rivalry is fierce as to who has the best collection! Some of my most unique pieces include deer antler towel racks, shark vertebra drawer handles and cockle shells I’ve repurposed as serving spoons. My mind immediately begins to transform things I find into a functional or decorative use.
What is a weekend at Greyfield Inn like?
Guests of Greyfield are greeted by my brother Mitty and his wife Mary Jo Ferguson, who manage the inn. A naturalist will escort visitors around the island and explain its cultural and natural history, before enjoying an al fresco picnic. The birding is exceptional, and one can request birding or kayaking trips to learn more about the ecosystem of the marshes or the 352 species of birds that frequent the island. Evenings are honored with an oyster bake, followed by a garden-to-table dinner with homemade bread and local shrimp, fish and venison. Our chef and culinary director, Whitney Otawka, is exceptional and made it to the finals on Top Chef Season 9.
You have a boutique on Martha’s Vineyard; what are some of your favorite spots on the island for shopping and dining?
My favorite shops are Midnight Farm, Gogo Jewelry, The Great Put On and Stina Sayre. I adore all the local farm stands for fresh produce, as well as Morning Glory Farm for delectable baked goods and Larsen’s Fish Market for fish and oysters.
Any favorite places to vacation near your home in San Miguel de Allende?
I first visited San Miguel de Allende as a teenager in 1969. I enrolled in a yearlong study abroad course through the Rhode Island School of Design and the Instituto Allende that allowed me to study Spanish while continuing with my art courses. I immediately fell in love with the Spanish Colonial town, which is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are fabulous restaurants and galleries and many incredible homes to rent. Gil Guttierrez is a local guitarist that you cannot miss. Every Sunday he has a comida at his country ranch. It is an incredible, immersive experience, but you must book far in advance to secure a spot.
Where would you like to travel to find inspiration for future lines?
I want to visit India and travel more in Africa. I am inspired by indigenous people who incorporate their surroundings into their homes and their lives. I find that the simpler your life, the more you connect with your natural surroundings. This is the gift that Cumberland has given me.
by: Emma Pierce, Courtesy of Indagare