Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Beauty, talent and ingenuity don't always go hand in hand but in Claire Buffie, these traits can't be more evident! Claire is Miss New York 2010 and she is the first Miss America contestant in the 90 year history of the pageant to run on a gay rights platform. Having placed 12th in the Miss America Pageant, she keeps a very busy schedule throughout the state as her charming and inviting personality makes her much in demand for various functions and activities. Claire took a break to speak with me recently about her amazing life...

MICK: Congratulations on your great success in the Miss America Pageant! Can you tell me about your amazing experience?
CLAIRE: The whole thing was just surreal! I went to the Miss America Pageant two years ago just to watch Katie Stam and she actually won Miss America that year. The next year I went to watch her give up her title. So I've been around the pageant for the last few years but on the other side, in the audience. So to be a part in it this was was completely surreal!
MICK: What was the hardest part of the competition?
CLAIRE: Just the subjectivity in general. That's your biggest competitor. You prepare and prepare for months! For me, it was essentially a process of four years with the prior six months of extreme preparation for it. You work very hard, you do so much work in your community and grow so much as a person. The title of Miss America is the subjective opinion of seven strangers who get to you for about 14-15 minutes. That, in relative to the entire year with all the work you've done, is a difficult thing. That subjectivity you have no control over.
MICK: Do you feel that your stand on the gay rights platform hindered your chances in the pageant at all?
CLAIRE: Not at all. In fact, that is what actually catapulted me into the finals because it was an America's Choice vote. America choose who they wanted to be the finalists. That's how I made it into the top 15. That just shows that my platform is something that related to people on a National scale more than just my city or state.
MICK: How can girls from Long Island get involved in the Miss New York competition?
CLAIRE: We have a new local on Long Island. We actually have two titles we will be giving out this year. One is Miss New York and the other will be Miss Long Island County. Once the girl is crowned, she will become either Miss Nassau or Suffolk County based on the county she lives in. The pageant is going to be on Sunday, March 26th at Hewlett High School in Woodmere. You can check out the details at missnyorg.com and that's the Miss New York website where you can find more information on the local. You can also stay in touch on my blog which is missny2010.blogspot.com. I will be posting things since this is a new local pageant We actually just got confirmation on the high school for the pageant.
MICK: You are originally from Indiana and you placed second in the 2008 Miss Indiana contest. What are the regulations as far as competing in a different state other than the one you came from?
CLAIRE: You must have six months residency based on full time employment, your university or college, or your actual residency. When I came to New York, the way I qualified for my residency was based on my apartment lease. You have to be in the city at least six months before you compete for your local and you have to maintain that residency through the state pageant that year. Last year I was new to it all. This year, I had a couple years under my belt and lots of New York taxes and rent that is already out of my pocket! The Miss America Organization is a scholarship organization so a lot of girls compete where they go to school. My first year that I competed in Indiana, the girl who was giving up her title was actually from Texas but she went to the Indiana University School of Music. In New York, it's unique in that sense. This year, we had 20 contestants. Ten were from the New York City area and ten were from thee rest of the state. Seven out of those twenty were not born in New York! It's because New York is a place girls come to go to school or for their dreams in their careers.

MICK: What are your duties as Miss New York?
CLAIRE: Before Miss New York, I was doing a lot with my platform. I do a lot of personal appearances and engagements on behalf of my platform "Straight For Equality: Lets Talk" and also Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) where I'm on the board. I work with Marriage Equality in New York. After the Miss America Pageant, I've been doing a lot of schools. I did a fair amount of schools before Miss America but now is when my full tour really launches.
MICK: You have a photography business also. Please tell me about that!
CLAIRE: I started my photography business in 2005 and it is focused in commercial photography. I do head shots for actors and dancers and I do weddings too. I was actually a graphic design major in college so I also do web design and graphic design as well. My passion is definitely in photography. Although I don't do too much dance photography, that is my most exciting thing to photograph. The hard part is just finding that access to the dance companies and the magazines that pay to have you photograph the dancers!
MICK: I also see that you work for Apple! What is your job function there?
CLAIRE: I did work for Apple until November of 2010. I had to quit Apple because of the work I was doing with Miss New York was taking up my entire schedule. I was a family room specialist there so essentially I was a genius for small devices like IPods, IPads and IPhones. I also taught people how to use their computers in a one to one program.
MICK: And you know how to fix IPods also right?
CLAIRE: Yes I do!
MICK: Do you have any other hobbies?
CLAIRE: I love to travel and I love to cook. I think those two things go hand in hand being that I love to travel and eat! I played tennis growing up and still enjoy playing with my dad when I go back to Indianapolis.
MICK: How do you like living in New York City?
CLAIRE: I love it! I've known since I was in sixth grade that I would move to New York. I chose to do my internships during college in New York rather than going to school in New York. I still wanted to have that all American college experience so I did that in the Midwest. When I competed for Miss Indiana in 2008, I knew it would be a win win situation for me. Either I was going to win Miss Indiana and stay in Indiana for the year or I would be going to New York immediately after the pageant, which is what happened.
MICK: What is on your agenda for 2011?
CLAIRE: I have four months left of being Miss New York and I really want to take full advantage of that. I'm traveling a lot. Since Miss America, my platform has made a really big splash so I've been booked all over New York, Florida, Indiana and Arkansas as well. Based on those next four months, I want to see where those opportunities take me. In my future, past Miss New York, I want to continue in my photography business. I will definitely be doing consulting for interview preparation and public speaking. I feel that my design skills really support my public speaking.
MICK: What words of advise can you give future Miss New York contestants?
CLAIRE: I will give the same advise that I gave to Katie Stand. Katie was Miss America in 2009 and Miss Indiana in 2008. She was actually my first runner up in her first local at Miss Central Indiana. She was a little bummed about that as anyone would be getting close and not winning the title. She asked me for advise. I told her you have to go into the pageant with the confidence that you can win but the humility that only one girl wins. Also with the self respect and self love that you don't have anything to prove to anyone else, that you are already doing enough just by getting on that stage. That takes a lot of courage, especially for the first time in a local. I gave her that friendly advise and then crowned her in my old local. She beat me in Miss Indiana and then went on to win Miss America.

Miss Nassau/Suffolk County and Miss Southern NY Pageants
Official preliminary competitions to Miss New York in the Miss America Organization
Sunday March 27, 2011 at 2:00
GW Hewlett-Woodmere High School
Hewlett, NY
Email Paul Brown paul@missnyorg.com for application and information

Compete in Interview (10 Minutes), Swimsuit, Evening Gown, Talent (90sec), and On-Stage Question.
Over $1,000 in scholarships will be awarded with chance to represent Long Island at the 2011 Miss New York State Pageant

You can find out more about Claire at: http://www.clairebuffie.com/

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ripe Art Gallery's Cherie Via!

She is talented, pretty, spunky, intelligent and has one of the coolest art galleries around! Cherie Via is the owner of Ripe Art Gallery, located at 67A Broadway in Greenlawn NY. Ripe is also the home to an expert frame shop, folk art gifts and handmade jewelry. Cherie's superb taste flourishes throughout the gallery and wraps it's unique essence on all who enter it's doors. I had the great pleasure to speak with Cherie just days before her big annual Valentine's Day Show "Through Rose Colored Glasses" opens...

MICK: How long has The Ripe Art Gallery been open?
CHERIE: I have been in this location [Greenlawn] for almost five years now but I've been Ripe Art Gallery for seven years. The business started as a house painting business. I used to work with a full female crew and we would do whole apartment jobs. We would get hired for a week while somebody was on vacation and we would repaint an entire apartment or a whole floor of a house. When they returned from their vacation, the whole place was painted and put back together. I got a lot of jobs because we were all females and customers just assumed that women are cleaner as painters! Then I scaled down on my staff and started doing more high end feux finishing and working with decorators. At that point, I needed a location because my paint was freezing in my garage. At that time I was also doing custom framing for my painting clients. So I got my first location in Northport which lasted about four months and I outgrew that location very quickly. Then I took a location in Huntington for one year and that's where I started showing art. I did several gallery shows there and it was a real small space.
I literally had to move out all of my tools and stuff, do the gallery show, then move it all back in. I was only open Wednesday nights and Saturdays! I couldn't afford Huntington so I found this place in Greenlawn and it was the perfect price and the perfect layout! I was still house painting when I moved in there. That lasted for about one year. In June of the first year at Greenlawn, the painting business came to a standstill. No work was coming in. That's when I really started paying attention to the gallery, being there full time and taking on more framing jobs. And that all leads me up to where I am right now!

MICK: How did you come up with the name "Ripe Art Gallery"?
CHERRIE: I was trying to come up with a name using my name in it's title. My last name is Via and I couldn't come up with anything that sounded good. So my boyfriend at the time suggested I use my first name, Cherie. But since it looks like Cherry, it sounded a little risque to use. Then he suggested Ripe Cherry. I said wait....Ripe! I immediately envisioned a sticker on an avocado. That was it! Ripe Art! I went to a graphic designer to make my logo and told her to think avocado sticker. I started collecting avocado stickers from avocados in the grocery store. That's how it came about!

MICK: Are you an artist also?
CHERIE: Yes I am! I am a "mother taught" artist! My mother was an artist and our dining room was her studio. My father would get mad at her a couple times a year and say "We want to eat in here!" She would have to clear off the dining room table, we would eat, and then she would put all of her things back. My mother was very talented but also very shy about it. I was actually a trained musician. The reason I came to Long Island is that I got a teaching job in Levittown teaching high school band for five years. After four years, I became unhappy and left after five years. I then went to work in a book store and that's when I started painting! After I got another job at a frame shop, my boss encouraged me to start selling my paintings. It was all small, folk art style paintings and they started to sell!

MICK: You have a wide variety of shows at Ripe. What are some of your more memorable shows?
CHERIE: The Valentine's Day show every year is memorable. This year is my fifth one. This show is always huge and brings in tons of artists. People really get excited about this one! Another great show was Mike Stanko. I felt really proud to have somebody of his caliber have a show at my gallery. A couple of years ago I showed Ray Lamantia. He's a painter from Bay Shore who is very technically advanced. He does photo realist paintings. When he was interested in showing at my gallery, I was also very flattered. I constantly feel flattered because the caliber of artists who are willing to show in my space keeps getting better and better. I feel that the fingers of Ripe Art Gallery keep reaching out further to the west as well as the east. With the economy the way it is and galleries closing, I feel very fortunate not to have succumbed to the economic times.

MICK: Can we talk about the alcohol incident?
CHERIE: Yes, I am ready to discuss the alcohol incident now that it's all over. It's completely over as of January 11th. It's been totally dismissed out of the court. My attorney found that the verbiage of the law does not actually state what art galleries are or aren't allow to do. There is nothing in the law about art galleries. There is very little in the law about serving alcohol as a refreshment and giving it away. Basically the law says a lot about selling it. Since I have never sold it, my attorney put together 30 objections to the case and was prepared to subpoena the first cops who came to last year's Valentine's Day Show. They were two uniformed policemen who didn't know what to do. They wrote a police report and that was that. The undercover cops who showed up in April never showed up for the court date and gave very incorrect information as far as what I was facing. I actually walked into a courtroom of DWI's and drug arrests and was very thankful brought an attorney with me. My attorney did not charge me for this and I had two court appearances. By the time I got to the second, the DA decided it just wasn't worth taking to trial. The judge dismissed the case under the terms that I kept my nose clean for six months. So I decided it wasn't worth it to have alcohol anymore as this whole fiasco could happen again. For over a year now, this has not affected my business at all. Now I'm serving soda which is sort of a treat to people these days as most don't drink soda anymore. I have candy, get them hopped up on Twinkies, Funny Bones and stuff they don't normally buy. It's really working out for me. Still selling art without the booze! I also have a speakeasy gallery in the back room which is an "invite only" gallery. I've been showing tattoo artists who show their personal work. It's exciting because most people are coming in getting pieces commissioned to put on their body. So to see what a tattoo artist wants to create is very interesting. Both shows I've had back there so far have been wildly successful. The last show I did we sold everything but one piece. People like coming to these shows because by invite only, this makes them feel special. I'm building a clientele who wants to be invited and know when they are being invited through the back door, they are coming to something very special. These events are not publicized. If you don't have a card in your hand, you can't come in. So I'm continuing to book that space more.

MICK: What are the future plans for Ripe?

CHERIE: Going forward, I want to continue doing what I am doing and potentially make a living at this. If I get to the point where I am paying myself, that would make me feel like a success. What I make now basically pays for my lifestyle which is not extravagant at all! I'm very happy I haven't starved yet or my dog hasn't starved yet! Right now, I'm redesigning the website. We are going towards E Commerce so that my artists whom I represent will now be available to a larger market through our website. I'm also in the process of promoting myself as the Rock Star Framer, which is a niche that I don't know anyone has taken. Ultimately I'd like to get to the point if you want to get the Rock Star Framer, you must make an appointment. They would get a special service when they come to see me with special designs...the whole experience from the Rock Star Framer! And then I'm thinking about taking the Rock Star Framer on tour! Go to other cities, showing the artists I represent and building it into a musical theme as well. Maybe picking a bar and having a couple musical artists play as well as show art. That would be fun!! I'm a single girl and I have my whole life involved in this. The website will be up and running with several artist pages in about a month.

MICK: The Valentine's Show opens this Monday evening (Feb. 14th). When is the deadline to submit pieces?

CHERIE: Ideally Saturday. I put it out as Friday the 11th as the deadline but I will still take last minute pieces on the 12th. There's still plenty of room. I expect anywhere from 40 to 70 artists. Last year I had around 60 artists. The year before I had 70. It fills up quickly and of course it fills up at the last minute. Everybody shows up on Friday!<

Ripeartgal.com will be up and running very soon!
Ripe Art Gallery, 67A Broadway, Greenlawn, NY (631) 239-1805
Please come to "Through Rose Colored Glasses", Ripe Art Gallery's Annual Valentine's Day Group Show! Opening reception is Monday, February 14th, 2011 from 6-9pm. Running through Saturday, February 26th, 2011.
Gallery hours:
Mon: closed
Tues-Thur: 11am-6pm
Fri: 2pm-8pm
Sat: 11am-5pm
Sun: closed

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


He is one of the original wild men of rock and roll, often found ripping off his shirt and getting down on the ground wailing away on his guitar back in the early 60's. Hilton Valentine went on to become the guitarist for the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band The Animals. His guitar riff that opens "House Of The Rising Sun" was voted number 29 on the top 100 guitar riffs of all time! He continues to play, though no longer the wild man! I had the great pleasure to speak with Hilton from his Connecticut home...

MICK: Is it true that "House Of The Rising Sun" was recorded in one take?
HILTON: Yes it was!
MICK: Do you still have the Gretsch Tennessean guitar that you used on that classic song?
HILTON: No I don't. I can't even remember what happened to it. I don't have any of my old guitars.
MICK: In 1964, the Animals appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show". What was that experience like for you and the band?
HILTON: It was a strange experience. It was strange for us to be going on a show that had such a variety of acts. I think there was an elephant there when we were on! And there was that Topo Gigio guy. It was the first time we were on this kind of family orientated situation. There was a feeling amongst us that once we had done The Ed Sullivan Show, that was breaking us into America. That was the show that did it for everybody.

MICK: I know The Animals toured with Chuck Berry early on. What was that like touring with the father of rock and roll?

HILTON: That was amazing. That was the first tour that the Animals ever did in England. We had "Baby Let Me Take You Home" which was our first single that was released in England and because of that, we got to go on the Chuck Berry tour. At that time, there was always five or six acts that were on the bill that went around in a Greyhound Bus kind of thing. We went from city to city in England. The fact that we were working with one of our idols was just amazing!

MICK: And he's still playing today too!

HILTON: He probably still just travels with his guitar and arrives at whichever gig and there's always a band set up for him. He just plugs in, runs through a few songs, goes off to get something to eat, comes back to do the show and then off he goes!

MICK: When the band dissolved in 1966, was there any bitterness among the band members?

HILTON: No, I don't think so. It was all quite amicable.

MICK: Are you still friends with the guys from the band today?

HILTON: Well I wouldn't say I was friends with Alan Price. I'm sort of friends with Eric [Burden]. I saw him about two years ago. We toured together for a couple of years which ended two years ago. I'm not really friends with John Steele.

MICK: You have a new CD coming out this spring?

HILTON: Yes! It's called "Skiffledog On Coburg Street". Coburg Street is where I grew up in my hometown of North Shields, England, which is beside Newcastle. There's a lot of skiffle songs on the album. It was basically relearning those old songs again and singing them, which is what I used to do when I was 13 or 14. There's some original stuff as well.

MICK: Is this an acoustic album?

HILTON: Yes it is!

MICK: Will you be touring this year?

HILTON: As soon as the album is mixed and mastered and pressed! We are doing a gig in Bordentown, New Jersey on March 19th at a place called "The Record Collector". And on April 30th, we will be at The Keeney Memorial Cultural Center in Wethersfield CT. This is the gig with Nick Frasco, the artist who drew the Skiffledog for our last album. An evening of art and music!

MICK: Are there any plans for an Animals reunion?

HILTON: No. The Animals bass player Chas Chandler passed away a few years ago. I can't see the band getting together with a different bass player.

MICK: What are your long range plans, looking past the spring release of your new CD?

HILTON: I just want to get out and start promoting this CD and keep it going. Hopefully I will do another one in a couple of years!

You can find out more about Hilton Valentine on his website