Kenneth Robert Howard
September 7, 1929
|Died||September 19, 1992 (aged 63)|
|Known for||Hot rod art, gunsmithing, knife making, automobile customizing and pin striping|
Kenneth Robert Howard (September 7, 1929–September 19, 1992), also known as Dutch, Von Dutch, or J. L. Bachs (Joe Lunch Box), was an American motorcycle mechanic, artist, pin striper, metal fabricator, knifemaker and gunsmith. His father, Wally Howard, was a Los Angeles sign painter; and, by the age of 10, the young Howard was able to paint and letter at a professional level.
As the son of a sign painter, Howard learned to letter and pinstripe professionally by the age of 10. While attending Compton High School, Howard excelled in track and field and was referred to as "the fastest man in LA." Family members gave him the nickname "Dutch" because he was "as stubborn as a Dutchman," he added the "Von" prefix later as an artistic signature.
Howard started earning money in the 1950s by pin-striping along with fellow striper Dean Jeffries. Von Dutch has been a major influence in the customizing of vehicles from the 1950s to today. Some of his famous works include the flying eyeball and the custom Kenford truck, along with numerous custom motorcycles and many award-winning custom cars. Among many custom car and motorcycle enthusiasts, he is thought of as one of the fathers of Kustom Kulture.
An avid gunsmith and knife maker, Von Dutch made numerous art knives and embellished firearms. Most of these were adaptations of existing items to which he added his artistic flair. In 1958, Von Dutch designed and produced the "Mare's Leg", a cut-down Winchester rifle for the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive.
Von Dutch completed pin striping the well known "Blue Velvet" Pontiac Firebird in 1979, which is complete with two perfectly parallel pin stripes 16 and a half feet long down each side of the vehicle. These pin stripes were completed by hand and attained a level of perfection that gave rise to the legend of Von Dutch as a pin striper.
Von Dutch's lifelong alcoholism led to major medical issues later in life. He died on September 19, 1992 from alcohol-related complications, leaving behind his two daughters, Lisa and Lorna. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.
Von Dutch Originals, LLC
After his death, his daughters sold the "Von Dutch" name to Michael Cassel and Robert Vaughn. Von Dutch is now an American multinational brand licensing company named after Kenny Howard. Considering that the Von Dutch name is now a lucrative, licensed brand, it is ironic that Kenny Howard had famously stated: "Use any of my stuff you want to. Nothing is original. Everything is in the subconscious, we just "tap" it sometimes and "think" we have originated something. Genes make us more or less interested in certain things but nothing is truly original! Copyright and patents are mostly an ego trip."
In January of 2004, an OC Weekly article alleged Howard's violent and racist tendencies. Robert Williams, a friend and fellow artist, said Howard was "...quite a racist; didn't like anybody. Howard was accused of having all the trappings of being a neo-Nazi. Another accusation suggested he could not tolerate black people." The article alleges that a letter written shortly before Howard's death in 1992, when he was in the hospital, closed with “Bye, Heil Hitler.” After the publication of the article, a number of retailers removed Von Dutch from their inventory despite its profitability.
In May 2004, Los Angeles Magazine profiled Howard similarly describing his alcoholism and anti-social behaviour. Von Dutch clothing founder Ed Boswell described Howard as "...an artistic Nazi, an aesthetic Nazi and a racist. But he was not a white power guy. He hated everybody too much to be one of those. He was a provocateur."
- "Von Dutch; Pioneer in Automobile Pin-Striping". Los Angeles Times. September 26, 1992. p. 24.
- Williams, Robert (1993). Kustom Kulture: Von Dutch, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Robert Williams and Others; C.R. Stecyk, Guest Curator, with Bolton Colburn. Last Gasp. pp. 20–22. ISBN 978-0-86719-405-0.
- St. Antoine, Arthur. - "Interview: Dean Jeffries, Hollywood legend". - Motor Trend Magazine
- Adler, Dennis (19 April 2016). "Chiappa 1892 Von Dutch Mare's Leg". Guns of the Old West.
- Misiroglu, Gina (26 March 2015). American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History. Routledge. pp. 387–388. ISBN 978-1-317-47729-7.
- Smith, RJ (May 2004). "Triumph of the Wheels". Los Angeles Magazine. Los Angeles, California: Emmis Communications. 74 (5): 90–97, 180–187. ISSN 1522-9149.
- "Von Dutch homepage". Neuronsyndicate.com. Archived from the original on 2015-02-12. Retrieved 2015-04-06.
- "Nothing is original". Graffiti Magazine. Archived from the original on 2015-07-13.
- Douglas, Theo (2004-01-08). "Von Who?". OC Weekly. Retrieved 2017-03-16.
- Emerald, Daily (2004-11-04). "Von Dutch: Behind the hot rod garb". Emerald Media. Retrieved 2017-03-16.
- Communications, Emmis (2017-03-16). Los Angeles Magazine. Emmis Communications.
- Koch, Richard; Tony Thacker (2007). Sundays with Von Dutch. Osceola, Wis: Motorbooks. ISBN 978-0-7603-2626-8.