Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Mustachioed Mile

Artist Erin Ruiz puts a face on the annual Main Street Mile races


Frequent benefit race runners are used to carting thick handled bags of swag away from the finish line. Inside, pink ribbon-shaped key chains bump up against low-carb, muscle-bulking milks and sponsor-speckled white T-shirts—a medley that usually clocks in at around 80 percent crap. Even race sponsors, themselves, are often saddled with loads of thank you loot. But that's not the case if you donate dough to the Main Street Mile. For the last four years, the event's sponsors have received limited edition Erin Ruiz prints made specifically for them.

"I wanted to do something more unique to give my sponsors the recognition for supporting the event," said Main Street Mile executive director Ryan Canning. "I actually approached Sally [Freeman, BW's publisher] to see if she knew anybody who would be interested, and Erin was the first name on her list."

But these prints aren't hokey pastels of runners chest-busting through a finish line, fists clenched triumphantly overhead. For a race that promotes prostate cancer awareness, they wanted something with a little more masculine zing. So, with an antique charm and an abundance of mustaches, Ruiz injected her paintings with some serious daditude.

"The first one I did ... I didn't want it to look too modern," explained Ruiz. "I felt like something a little bit more nostalgic fit the style [Canning] was going after. He wanted a touching theme so we period dated it with some modern updates like running gear."

After Ruiz's Do it for Dad debuted in 2006—featuring a slick-haired dad sporting a handlebar mustache and a striped bow tie, holding onto his tiny matching son—the theme caught on. While 2007's We Run for One featured a group of more modern-looking runners, in 2008's A Mile for Men and 2009's Together for One, the mustaches are back like black on asphalt.

"I think it hinges well into the event that those are the iconic masculine-type male role models. She's worked in the firefighters and things like that," said Canning. "She's injected her personality into it and also has been able to convey the unity between the men."

Because of Ruiz's hectic schedule this year, she scaled down her original piece to a 9-inches by 18-inches watercolor, instead of the usual 24-inches by 18-inches oil paintings she had done in the past. The piece is softer-hued than her previous works, but in no way less eye-catching. The original mustachioed pop has one arm slung around his much older, wide-eyed son and the other around his white haired, mustached dad. A beefy forest ranger-type has his arm draped gently on the back of his Girl Scout daughter. It's a scene that grabs you by the elbow and sternly, yet lovingly, urges: "Dad, get yourself checked. Look what's on the line." For Ruiz—whose family members slog through the race's 5,280 feet every year—it's about giving back.

"It seems like there's more heart involved in [creating work for a benefit] than just donating pieces. You're doing it because you have the time and you want to do good for someone and give back," said Ruiz. "I think it's good for every artist to stretch their ability. Lend your talents to something that's bigger than you."

And Canning couldn't be more pumped to have Ruiz as part of the Main Street Mile crew. The two have already started throwing around ideas for next year's race. Here's a hint: there will be mustaches.

"We had a couple people say, 'Man, I've got to grow a mustache,'" laughed Canning. "Maybe that's something we'll push towards next year—to generate a big mustache contest."

For more information on the Main Street Mile, read this week's Rec feature.