Kenneth Howard - "Von Dutch"


   

Kenneth Howard self named "Von Dutch" grew up in south Los Angeles, or the Maywood area. The son of a sign painter, who painted several well known landmarks in the Los Angeles, California area.

It has been written that his father designed the Western Exterminator Company logo. This is not the case. Vaughn Kauffman, a Yellow pages layout artist, actually designed the logo in 1928. Walker Howard, Kenneth's father had painted the sign. Walker Howard pin striped the flower carts at Farmer's Market in L.A. , which is where Von Dutch picked up on the technique. It also should be noted that Walker Howard gold-leafed the doors of City Hall.

As a child Kenneth hung out in his father's shop and his Uncle Kenny's garage. There he learning how to work with tools and how to paint signs. Around 1941 he finished high school and got a job working for George Birop's Motorcycle Shop. At this time motorcycles were about the only vehicle that were being striped. Kenneth found striping and character painting a way to cover and disguise scratches or imperfections in body paint.

The Originator of the Modern "Pin" Striping also credits himself with being one of the first to air brush on shirts. Von Dutch had an idea that custom paint and pin striping was a way to personalize a car, cycle or what ever. In doing so each work was unique like it's owner. So in many cases the stripe job was meant to reflect a personality. As for the paint jobs that just didn't fit into that concept, Kenneth drew a fine line between striping for cash or telling the customer to buzz off.

Kenneth Howard the legendary originator died the 19th of September 1992. A great amount of his work, automotive, gunsmith and cutlery are in personal collections. Hopefully a comprehensive guide to Von Dutch's work will be published one day.

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The Life And Times Of Von Dutch by Bob Burns

Pinstriping on cars and motorcycles was a dead art when 15-yr. old Kenny Howard went to work in George Beerup's motorcycle shop in the mid-forties. The last automobile striping on an american car was done by General Motors in 1938. Then, in the mid-fifties, customizers brought it back in style in mostly radical form believing they were doing something entirely new! Kenny, the motorcycle mechanic was the man who started this "new" vogue under the name "Von Dutch."

Dutch's Dad was a well known designer, sign painter and goldleaf man in the South LA area known as Maywood. The well known Western Exterminator Logo is an example of his work that lives on today.

Dutch would occasionally bring a bike home from Beerup's shop borrow his Dad's brushes to put pinstripes all over it. When Beerup saw what dutch had accomplished, he couldn't believe it, and moved him from mechanical work to painting and striping. For the next decade, he built a reputation that he really never wanted.

" I'm a mechanic first." he used to say, "If I had my way I'd be a gunsmith! I like to make things out of metal, because metal is forever. When you paint something, how long does it last? A few years, and then it's gone!"

For the next several years Dutch painted and pinstriped nothing but motorcycles, moving from shop to shop, saturating each area. By the mid-fifties he had done thousands of bikes, but very few cars. Striping cars started as a joke when he was working at Al Titus' motorcycle shop in Linwood, California. The whole car striping idea started to 'snowball' and he was there.

He was approached by a guy known as the Crazy Arab,  who thought it could be worked into a full-time occupation. Dutch didn't believe it, but he tried it, and for the next three years he worked at it until it just drove him nuts!

When Dutch quit striping in 1958, he was still in great demand. Customizers from all over the country had heard of him, and cars came from as far away from the L.A. area as New York to be "Dutched." When a car owner came to him, he didn't tell Dutch what he wanted, he just told him how much 'time' he wanted to purchase. The designs were up to Dutch, and many of them were created way down deep in the recesses of his eccentric imagination. He had hundreds of imitators and followers; Shakey Jake, The Barris Brothers, Tweetie, Slimbo, Big Daddy Ed Roth and many others.

Dutch On Money

Despite his genius and popularity, Dutch never made any money from striping. Money was something he detested. In this quote from a 1965 article Dutch explains his thoughts on money.

"I make a point of staying right at the edge of poverty. I don't have a pair of pants without a hole in them, and the only pair of boots I have are on my feet. I don't mess around with unnecessary stuff, so I don't need much money. I believe it's meant to be that way. There's a 'struggle' you have to go through, and if you make a lot of money it doesn't make the 'struggle' go away. It just makes it more complicated. If you keep poor, the struggle is simple. "

Every so often he would double his rate just to weed out the undesirables. So many were demanding his services that he just couldn't stand it anymore.   It didn't work! No matter what he charged, they just kept on coming! He hated the commercial aspects of what he did. He believed that you couldn't focus on doing good work if you worried about the money, and 'good work' was everything to Dutch!

So, after about 10 years of hiding out, Dutch surfaced in Arizona, where he made guns and knives, did some custom paint, bodywork, and pinstriping. He and his wife and kids tried. somewhat, to live like a 'normal' family.....in a house...with a bar-b-que....and a station wagon.

The Brucker Years

The domestic life lasted until the mid-seventies when Dutch dropped everything, and moved back to California to take over the job vacated by Big Daddy Roth at "Cars of the Stars."  He would be the general fabricator and custodian of the Bruckers Family's Collectibles. The Bruckers gave Dutch a house to live in and appointed him work hoursof 9 to 5. Much to everyone's amusement, Dutch started calling himself J.L. Bachs, short for Joe Lunch Box.

When 'Cars of the Stars' closed up. Dutch moved to Santa Paula, California along with the Brucker Collection and lived his remaining years right there at the warehouse, behind a locked enclosure, mostly running everyone off, especially those wearing any kind of uniform or carrying a clipboard. He also shot at a guy who said he was from Cleveland! Dutch got to be really eccentric-amundo!

It was during these years that he turned out some beautiful knives, all hand-done and brass-etched. He sold about 100 of them for $300 each. Today they would easily fetch $3,000! He also built some extraordinary motorcycles and lots of other stuff, like (no kidding) a steam-powered TV set. He also built the "Kenford"....1956 pickup with a '47 Kenworth cab combo!

For pinstripers, Von Dutch is the one person most responsible for the existence of the craft. He's also responsible for other custom touches we're all familiar with as he was also the creator of the motorized rollerskate and putting VW engines in anything but VW's. He was an expert gunsmith, knife-maker, and fabricator. To those who knew and understood him (not to many) he was a Great Philosopher.

The Life And Times Of Von Dutch by Bob Burns

 

   

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