Detroit Lakes native, Air Force veteran designs sailboat for '150 Sails Up'

Artist Brian Mahoney grew up in Detroit Lakes, so even though he now makes his home in Rapid City, S.D., it wasn't so surprising that he was asked to participate in the "150 Sails Up in DL" public art project.

This photo illustration shows the four panels — each representing a different season — that artist Brian Mahoney painted for his "150 Sails Up in DL" sailboat design. The sailboat is sponsored by his sister, Lisa Piche, and her business, All Seasons Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. (Submitted photos)

Though he hasn't called Detroit Lakes his home for more than 30 years now, artist Brian Mahoney was excited to be asked to contribute his talents to the "150 Sails Up in DL" public art project.

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Detroit Lakes native Brian Mahoney, who now makes his home in Rapid City, S.D., has designed a four seasons-themed sailboat for the "150 Sails Up in DL" public art project. He plans to attend this Friday's Sailboat Regatta Party at Kent Freeman Arena in Detroit Lakes. (Submitted photo)

"It was a fun challenge," says Mahoney, who now makes his home in Rapid City, S.D.

Though he has only recently begun to display his work beyond the confines of his own home, Mahoney says art has been a part of his life since he was a kid.
"I always loved doodling and being creative growing up," he said in a Tuesday interview. "I remember one of my favorite classes in high school was art, with Mr. Merry.


"Two of my grandparents were artists, too, in fact they owned Mahoney Studios (in Detroit Lakes) which was bought by Norb Caufield," Mahoney recalled.

After graduating from Detroit Lakes High School in 1984, however, Mahoney chose not to follow that particular dream: Instead, he explored another passion.

"I always wanted to fly," he said. "I was looking at colleges and thought, 'The Air Force will pay for my education if I enlist.'"

So that's what he did.

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USAF pilot Brian Mahoney during his basic training in 1984. (Submitted photo)

"I was an air traffic controller for four years," Mahoney said. "I did that with the goal of becoming a USAF pilot and to get on a solid career path."

The Air Force paid for 75% of his college expenses, en route to earning a bachelor's degree in aeronautics. In 1990, Mahoney applied and was accepted for pilot training. He would subsequently spend nearly a quarter century flying jets and other aircraft for the Air Force, before retiring in 2013.


"I primarily flew the T-37, T-38, T-34 and the KC-0135, which was my primary system," he said. "Along the way I was able to log some time flying B-52, B-1, and B-2 aircraft."

During nearly 25 years as an Air Force pilot, Mahoney was deployed to the Middle East "nearly a dozen times." He did tours in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Iraq and Afghanistan. "I also had several flying deployments to England, Portugal, and Spain," he added.

As an Air Force officer, he held leadership positions including flight school commander, chief of safety, chief of staff, and inspector general.

While he was in the Air Force, Mahoney says, he continued to find ways to express himself creatively as well.

"While deployed in the USAF I often brought drawing pencils and pads to fill lull time and did lot of more creative drawing," he said. "My favorite is a portrait I did of my oldest son (of three), Brandon."

After retiring from the Air Force, Mahoney spent several years in Fargo, where he and his wife Linda still have a home; last year, he moved to Rapid City, where he has established an aviation business.

"We do aerial imagery acquisition all over North and South America," he said. "I manage 12 different air crews."

It was about four years ago that Mahoney decided to pursue his art a little more seriously, though he still describes it as a hobby.


"I was running my own business and found myself getting a bit stressed, and decided to use painting to get my mind to slow down a bit," he said. "I was surprised how in relatively short order, a year or two, I was starting to feel good about my paintings and started sharing my work; I even had several of my pieces in a fine art studio in Deadwood (S.D.), and was featured as an upcoming new local artist; it was relieving to hear others liked them, but overall, it was just for me to reduce the stress of work."

Mahoney says his style of painting is inspired by Bob Ross ; in fact, he said, he learned his technique largely through watching instructional videos from the world-famous artist.

"I always tell people that Bob Ross was my teacher," he joked.

Last fall, his sister Lisa Piche — who owns the Detroit Lakes-based All Seasons Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate — approached him about creating the design for the 4-foot-tall metal sailboat that her business was sponsoring for the "150 Sails Up" project.

"I pondered a concept for a couple weeks," he said — until inspiration struck.

"I thought, with the sponsor in mind, all seasons means four seasons, and there are four panels (on the sailboat)," he said. "So I adopted a concept of using each panel to represent a season in northern Minnesota."

Mahoney said the entire project took him a couple months to complete, start to finish.

"The biggest challenge was painting on a new medium — a heavily curved, metal surface (rather than a flat canvas) — and trying to get the perspectives correct," he said. "Another challenge was trying to paint in a style I normally do not do; bright colorful scenes for spring and summer. The fall and winter scenes were more my style, and they took about a fifth of the time of the other two panels."


Though he admitted he could have used a few more months to perfect the design, Mahoney was able to deliver the finished sailboat in plenty of time for this Friday's Regatta Party, which he says he will be attending along with his wife, Linda.

"I rarely feel like I have done everything I want to a painting," he said. "I always find flaws and things I should improve, but I have learned to know when to walk away and let it be. In this case, I often say I wish I'd had another six months on it — but there was a deadline, and I did the best I could."

Inspired by his work on the "150 Sails Up" project, Mahoney says he would like to continue to challenge himself, working with new media and expanding his artistic horizons.

" I hope to have the opportunity to do something like this again — especially for my hometown," he said. "It opened my eyes to art other than just on canvas."

If you go

What: Sailboat Regatta Party for '150 Sails Up in DL'

When: Friday, April 30, 4-7 p.m.

Where: Kent Freeman Arena , 1310 Rossman Ave., Detroit Lakes

Tickets: $5 for adults, free for children and students


Info: w , or

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