A sweet home away from home; Utica, NY. Craig and I went on a short excursion to New York state to mine for crystals direct from the source. Last year we spent a little time in Utica and decided this year to stay for a week. Our comfortable airbnb had fantastic natural light and luscious green plants. You can see the location we stayed in gave me a lot of photographic inspiration.
The city of Utica is small but there is quite a bit to do in the area if you take the time to look around. We stayed in a friendly neighborhood near historical Utica Psychiatric Center aka New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica. The asylum was opened in 1843 and was the first state run facility for the mentally ill. The building is MASSIVE but was supposed to be much larger according to the original plans. When you stand outside of this structure you are certain to be amazed by its size and the plainness of the concrete. Usually when you see Greek Revival in architecture, you expect embellishments, statues, and fabulous details splattered across the exterior. Not here. This place is award winning in minimalist details. Which sets the precedent for the style of Utica, there is next to no fashion here.
It’s surprising considering the first director of the asylum believed labor was essential for curing mental illness and had hospital residents gardening, writing, and doing needle works. I’d expect to see more gardens, literature, and paintings throughout the city. But with a new mega hospital being built bringing together three smaller local hospitals, it appears residents may not be a fan of the funding pumped into the medical industry by the the state. Which is also forcing residents to pay for such a massive build. (#Nohospitaldowntown) I can see why there is not more art or local business around.
Beyond the hospitals there is a lively coffee spot that is adored by locals. Utica Coffee Roasting Company seems to be the most hip location between the older downtown and newer commercial side of Utica. When the doors are open, you can bet there is a small crowd of people there, drinking coffee, conversing or getting work done. They have an awesome selection of locally roasted coffees and the staff is always cheerful. Our favorite spot to drink coffee is outside on the patio right next to the building. Free parking and great vibes!
There is also a surprising amount of well made international cuisine here. We ate Chinese, Indian and Italian while in Utica. All our food was scrumptious. I’d say our favorite spot to eat is Chinese food by Beijing House. We recommend the Crab Rangoon, Sweet & Sour Chicken, and any of their fried rice. Their Lo Mein and Chow Mein are also legit. Minar Indian Cuisine is also highly recommended by both Craig and myself. If you’re looking for American food and/or brunch we recommend finding your way to Top Of The Morning. This spot is only open until the early afternoon so ‘Wake The Hell Up!’ with Utica Coffee Roasting Company then head over to Top of The Morning Cafe well before 2pm because they are busy.
So maybe coffee, brunch, and early starts aren’t your thing. You should go to Woodland Farm Brewery. It’s just outside of Utica on a secluded plot of land. Their location has yummy bar food, Plenty of indoor and outdoor seating as well as delicious alcoholic beverages. Their home made beers are what I recommend.
The real reason we travel to Central New York, is to hand pick quartz crystals for our jewelry making. After attending the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference, I’ve been more conscious about where my gemstones and beads come from. Craig and I discovered that there is a rare quartz variety that comes from this region of the US. Last year we trekked out to see if we, as noobs, could actually mine for them with our own two hands. Turns out we could. This is our second trip that we hope to make annual. Who knowns though, we could end up in a different state next year looking for other mineral varieties.
This time around we checked out two different mining locations and returned to a small bead and crystal shop in little falls. (I’ll get to that spot in the next blog post! More about the stones!) The most well known name for this quartz variety is ‘Herkimer Diamonds’. While these are Quartz minerals are not Diamonds, some argue that ‘ Herkimer Diamonds’ are more beautiful and more rare than real diamonds. This quartz variety is rare because of its crystal clear coloring and its double terminated crystal forms. What does this mean? The gemstones in their finest quality are so clear, you can see right through them and it is said they actually enhance your vision. The double termination means there are points on both sides of the crystal! (most crystals are pulled off the wall of their matrix, so there is one point.) The formations of ‘Herkimer Diamonds’ are quite striking when you find them. You really do need to see it to believe it.
About the Author & Artist
Megan LaCroix also known as Citrine is the daughter of a Navy Veteran. She’s lived all over the US but has roots in Michigan where her family is from. Spending summers in Northern Michigan exploring nature inspired her to create art work starting with jewelry and photography. She’d spend hours looking for rocks and creating assorted beaded jewelry with her sisters. In 2014 She graduated from University of Michigan School of Art & Design with a BFA then moved to Detroit where she is currently living and working. She is a multi-media artist with ever expanding skills but is best known for her jewelry, screen printing, photography, and paintings. Detroit Graffiti has a significant influence on her painting and drawing style. She’s participated in ArtPrize 2015 & 2021 and currently has a studio in the Village Arts Factory of Canton, MI.