Story by Curt Sanburn
Photo by James Anshutz
Alma McGoldrick credits
her then-teenage daughter Tessa with the idea. It was forty years ago, during the macramé-mad 1970s. At the time, McGoldrick, now 84, was a busy fashion photographer in Honolulu. She had just photographed a macramé necklace laced with big seashells for the cover of Honolulu
magazine. Her daughter loved the necklace and made one of her own, replacing the shells with bits of intensely colored tree fungus—from her hiker-mom’s collection—to create a durable, lightweight and all-natural necklace.
Gifted with an eye for a good thing, McGoldrick began making necklaces in earnest. She did away with the macramé and focused on the fungus: delicate, striated compositions, paper-light yet tough, hanging from beaded satin cords. She approached the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island to sell her unique jewelry, but the gift shop manager was squeamish: “She turned up her nose and said to me, ‘I don’t think we want to call them ‘fungus necklaces,’” McGoldrick remembers. “Well, they looked like shells and they grow on trees, so I called them ‘Tree Shells.’”
Nowadays McGoldrick’s Tree Shell necklaces and collages are available at Martin & MacArthur stores throughout Hawai‘i; the Gallery of Great Things in Waimea on Hawai‘i island; and at Showcase Hawai‘i at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum in Honolulu. An avid naturalist and hiker, McGoldrick still collects the fungus herself, trudging into the muddiest, densest corners of O‘ahu’s rainforests to harvest Coriolus versicolor—a common fungus found on dead tree trunks. Its fan-shaped fruiting body gives it the nicknames “bracket” or “turkey tail” fungus. According to scientists, snapping off the fruiting body of a tree fungus in no way harms it, because its mycelium is inside the decomposing wood, and the fruiting bodies grow back quickly.
Close friend and frequent hiking buddy Laura Crites claims McGoldrick knows O‘ahu’s forest trails better than anyone, yet her tag-along hiking parties often find themselves lost, “which is part of the fun of hiking with Alma,” she says. “I’m sixteen years younger but I can barely keep up. She’s one of the most energetic and enthusiastic people I know. Nature is her passion.”