Kenneth “Von Dutch” Howard

Introduction: 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.

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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.

I can’t say when I first realized the impact Von Dutch has had on the Kustom Kulture and especially art of “Pin” Stripping. He has always been apart of the hot rod custom scene. My father who has been pin stripping since the late 50’s would always point out a good strip job to me. A car or motorcycle always had to have a good stripe job. In our case this went right on down to the family ride.

Von Dutch was the example that all others would have follow. I believe there was so much more than pin stripping coming from Kenneth Howard. An artist with an in genius way of personalizing almost every object in every medium he worked in. He machined and tooled mini cannons, guns, and knives. Invented several unique items like a steam powered television, powered skates and countless widgets.

There are also several known canvas paints in private collections. With that in mind I was shocked by negative stories of a lonely soul living out a very modest existents in a transit bus behind a shop just outside of Santa Paula where he maintained a car collection owned by the Brucker Family.

Why was Kenneth missing from the vary scene where he is one of the three wise kings? In interviews with Pat Ganl, Rod and Custom. Von said “He didn’t want things written about him, but rather about his work”. He explained that he created much of the weird and wild persona, especially when he was young, as assort of a cover-up- a distraction- for his talent.

Weather Von Dutch wanted to be commercialized during his life or after is not completely clear. His persona added to this legend. Von Dutch did not distract from Von Dutch, his talents or the work itself? His statements about persons wanting to use his name for profit now and once he is gone fuels the fire even more. Was the whole thing so much larger than the person.

The “Von Dutch” name is large, it’s corporate. Kenneth created a brand and did not like being the product. Now what we have is loose stories some more a tall tale than truth and the product. With stickers, shirts and other gimmick products with his name upon them the whole licensing and copyrights issues are up for grabs… There’s clothing store on Melrose Avenue that bares the name “The Original Von Dutch Store”? I only give the link out so you can see it to believe it. No matter how much I would love a logo ‘d shirt I just can’t do it…

And what about the “Von Dutch Lives” and hoopla over the tall tales that he or someone else has spun. Von Dutch is cool, very cool we need more gallery shows of his art like the one by Tornado Design put together. We also need a documented bio and a list of all works in private collections. That would be “DUTCHED”!

Surely you have heard the common stories. The upside down face painted on a grill insert, the Gullwing’s flame job. And the car with scallops on one side and flamed on the other… Or was that just a stripe job that didn’t match side to side?

My point, The legends live long after the talent has faded. I hope you enjoy the stories I have received and please take most of it with a grain of salt.

This is an extremely rare letter from the late world renowned artist and pin striper Von Dutch to fellow artist Gene Brown dated November 12, 1991.

Written from workshop near Santa Paula Airport where Dutch buddied around with actor Steve McQueen. This letter was mailed a short time prior to the death of Von Dutch. It expresses the philosophy of Dutch and his low regard for most people and religion with somewhat strong anti-Christian overtones.

This is a very rare Von Dutch item as he disliked writing letters and seldom communicated with anyone in his last years except in person. Brown had known Von Dutch since being introduced to him in 1959 by custom paint specialist Stanley Betz. Dutch often said he enjoyed the hand done Christmas cards that Brown sent to a select few every year.


Gene! In response to your letter and book. First off I have never read any books other than trade manuals-motorcycle engines or guns. I am not nor ever interested in people, only in what they make. When I was in business I gave them some courtesy and did not speak my mind. Now I have know reason to do that. So they get the truth and hopefully they go away. I also not use the telephone either anymore. I use people to make money or to lift heavy things for me. And would just as soon see everything covered in concrete. I don’t like mud or keeping care of landscaping. I went through a lot of crap with my wife because I wanted sex. When my kids were in there teens I wasn’t to go through all that shit. So I left them completely alone with any pain in the ass relatives. Religion, All of them are bullshit! Happens the Christians are fucking up the world the worst than the others. They are the only one with a healer so they capture sick people more.

So get off of me with it!

BYE, Von Dutch

Comments (6)

  1. Tag Taggert

    I hung with Dutch in Arizona, I have a airbrush wife beater shirt he did for me of a bar built called Minderbinders. have good memories, good stories, he was my friend!

  2. […] very few people would recognize his name. They would recognize one of his better-known nicknames: Von Dutch.Born in 1929 as the son of a sign painter, Von Dutch was already painting professionally by age […]

  3. John Welsch

    I had the pleasure of meeting Kenny while he lived out of his bus on north Cavecreek Road in Phoenix during the late ‘70s. We both had an interest in motorcycles, guns, and beer, and if I brought a case along, we’d sit and BS for and hour or two until I got him to loosen up enough to give me some pinstriping pointers. He critiqued my striping job on my motorcycle (sold LONG ago), wi5hout cruelty and honestly. I haven’t striped since, but every now and then I think Kenny is looking in and I get the urge to go BYU a couple new “swords” and a pint of lacquer for another go ’round.

    At this point in his life, if you just walked up and started talking about painting, he’d throw you right out of the bus, doors open or not! I enjoyed the very brief time I got to spend with him, I don’t think he’d ever let anyone call him a friend, and like all artists, his eccentricity was on full display all the time.

    His machine shop was small but extremely well cared for with the typical Dutch pinstriping present on his lathe and tool chest. The man was not only an artist in the paint media, but also in the workshop.

    I wish I could’ve spent more time with him, but life gets in the way and we all have our paths to walk. I know he was an avowed atheist, but I’m hoping he saw the light in the end and we’ll all meet up again some day in that crappy old custom bus in the sky!

  4. Terrell Dunn

    He was my father’s uncle, my great uncle. Coincidentally I have been a graphic artist myself for over 20 years, and also into many of the same interests. Including motorcycles, art, guns, and fabrication of many different oddball projects. I never knew much about him and have recently started researching him. I never knew he was the origin of ‘Von Dutch’ Very cool write up you’ve done here in his honor. Thank you for sharing all this information.

    • John Welsch

      Actually, the pleasure was all mine! Meeting Ken and spending time with him and his idiosyncrasies was the educational highlight of my young life.

      Glad to see that you’re following along in the artistic world yourself Terrel. I’m sure “The Dutchman” is looking down with pleasure, and probably critiquing your work in a most colorful fashion.

      In closing, he was a real treasure, an inspiration (I’ve taken to machine tools and gunsmithing myself, although I’m no longer a drinker), and I only wish I’d have continued with a sword in hand and tried to carry on what he tried to tech me!

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