Von Dutch

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Kenneth Robert Howard (September 7, 1929 - September 19, 1992) is known as the father of the modern pinstriping.
A famous photo of Von Dutch showing off with one of his striping brushes. Photo courtesy of Von Dutch Official.
Von Dutch pinstriping the Barris Kustoms' 1950 Ford Woody circa 1954. Photo by George Barris.
A color photo of the Barris Kustoms' 1950 Ford Woody.
The-art-of-von-dutch.jpg
A "Von Dutch Originator of Modern Pin Striping" sign. Von Dutch claimed that he started drawing flying eyeballs at the age of 18. His sister Virginia Howard Reyes was there the first time he drew it and she told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama that she could confirm that her brother drew it in 1948. Dean Jeffries on the other hand claims that he invented the trademarked Flying Eyeball in 1951. According to Dean, Kenny used to paint a third eyeball on his forehead. This gave Jeffries an idea, and in 1951 he designed a logo with an eyeball and wings that he later trademarked. The logo is known as "the Flying Eyeball". Kenny kept using it, and Jeffries never bothered to make a deal out of it. The sign sold for $149,500 at The Brucker Auction in 2006. Photo courtesy of The Jalopy Journal.
Philip Sauers' 1951 Mercury of San Diego, California. Known as Sashta, Phil's Merc was restyled by Dean Jeffries, and striped by Von Dutch. The build was completed December 24th 1954.
Philip Sauers told later owner Greg Beck that it took Von Dutch all day to stripe the dash on his 1951 Mercury. "He would stripe a little, drink a little, stripe a little more, drink a little more. He said this went on all day." The glove box in the car was striped with the Tree Of Life. Photo by Bob D'Olivio
The dash in Dick Jackson's 1954 Mercury featured pinstriping by Von Dutch. He added them circa 1954.
Paul Sylva's 1927 Ford Model T Roadster was flamed and pinstriped by Von Dutch in 1955.
Merlin Windham's 1955 Buick. Built in 1955, Merlin's Buick was dubbed the Dragon Wagon. It featured pinstriping and painting by Von Dutch.
Von Dutch gave The Reed Bros Belly Tank a paint job. It was also decorated with pinstriping and murals. This photo of the famous belly tank was taken during the 1955 Bonneville Nationals. Photo from The Fred Larsen Photo Collection.
The nose of The Reed Bros Belly Tank featured a self-portrait of Von Dutch.
Circa 1956 Von Dutch gave Earl Bruce's Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing a radical and unusual flame paint job. Later in his career, Von Dutch told Terry Cook that the hardest thing to paint was a long straight line, "which is of course true. When I asked him if it was factual that he was the first to paint flames on a car he said he first did it on motorcycles, but "Hell, the Lafayette Escadrille painted flames on their airplanes in WWI." One time he did a full flame job on a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing coupe and he said: "I thought they were going to lynch me for desecrating a shrine."
Manuel Gonzalez's 1940 Ford Coupe of Wilmington, California. Gonzalez was a member of the Pharaohs of Wilmington car club, and in 1956 his coupe received a flame paint job by Von Dutch. Von Dutch laid bright red flames that he tipped with yellow peaks and white outlines. Additional pinstriping was also added under the headlights and on the deck lid. The job was most likely done at "The Crazy Arab's" Competition Body Works in Los Angeles.
In 1956 Von Dutch pinstriped and airbrushed Bill Daniels' 1950 Oldsmobile. Bill was 18 years old when he stopped by to get the car Dutched. It featured louvers in any area available. 200 in the hood, 100 on the deck lid, and on all interior garnish moldings, and Von Dutch told him that anyone crazy enough to have louvers on the trunk deserves flames which he airbrushed. "He also individually striped each louver, and there were hundreds. He didn't want anyone watching, said to go home, come back in 8 hours and guaranteed, you will be happy," Bill told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2020. "When I first made the appointment, he said to be sure and bring a half-gallon of red wine along with the car." Photo courtesy of Bill Daniels.
Von Dutch pinstriped Louie Gaulrapp's 1954 Chevrolet in 1956.
George Contaoi's 1955 Ford F-100 of San Bernardino, California, was restyled by Dick Richardson's Custom Shop and Barris Kustoms in 1956. Von Dutch striped it and made a mural on the tailgate along with Dean Jeffries.
Von Dutch and Dean Jeffries collaborated on this artwork on the tailgate of George Contaoi's 1955 Ford F-100 in 1956. Photo from The George Contaoi Collection.
Von Dutch painting the El Caballo II, April 5, 1957 at Competition Motors. Photo by Eric Rickman, courtesy of Hot Rod Magazine.
Von Dutch pinstriped and louvered Harry Hanford's 1954 Lotus Mark IV while he worked out of The Crazy Arab's Competition Body Shop.
Paul Lehrbass' 1952 Pontiac Catalina was pinstriped by Von Dutch sometime around 1957.
Bud McNair's 1955 Chevrolet 210, of Corona Del Mar, California was flamed and striped by Von Dutch sometime prior to 1957.
Perry Gardner's 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, of Artesia, California was striped by Von Dutch sometime prior to 1957.
An artwork Von Dutch painted on The Outcast dragster.
The Yeakel Roadster with an upside-down painting by Von Dutch. When racers brought him grille inserts from Model A's or 32s, half the time he would stripe them upside down.
A spider painting by Von Dutch.
Terry Cook recalled that Von Dutch would rise and set with the sun when he knew him in the 1970s. "He would drink coffee in the morning and drink Coors beer in the afternoon and smoke reefer if it was available. No drugs harder than marijuana. With the jazz radio station in the background, he would occasionally pick up his flute and play along with the radio. Not a great flutist, but better than you or me."
Von Dutch pinstriped Jim Helmuth's 1932 Ford Roadster. Photo courtesy of The Rodders Journal.
Ina Mae Overman's 1955 Ford Thunderbird was pinstriped by Von Dutch in order to hide a crack in the fiberglass on the car.
Von Dutch "Doll-Up" Stripes by Hollywood Accessories. This kit was advertised for sale on eBay in March of 2020. The auction ended March 20, receiving a winning bid of US $197.52. Click here to check out the eBay listing.
A Von Dutch self-portrait from 1965. This is one of Von Dutch's most expressive pieces, and it is often considered his first self-portrait, Goodbye Cruel World being his second. Being oil on board, the piece was produced while Dutch and his family were living in Reseda, California. The famous painting was par of The Brucker Collection auction in 2006 where it sold for US $92,000.[1] Photo courtesy of RM Sotheby's.
Von Dutch built The Winton Flyer for the 1969 movie The Reivers. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.
All cleaned up. A photo of Von Dutch taken at the first Lead East in 1983. Photo courtesy of Terry Cook.
After a controller from the building inspector's office started bugging Von Dutch for having antiquated machinery in his shop, he decided to move into a public transportation bus, since there is nothing in the vehicle code that says anything about how old the machinery can be. The bus was restored and was later owned by Steve Kafka of Arizona. Photo courtesy of Steve Kafka.

Kenneth Robert Howard (September 7, 1929 - September 19, 1992) is known as the father of the modern pinstriping.


Son of a sign painter

Also known as Von Dutch, Dutch, or J.L. Bachs (Joe Lunch Box), Howard was born in Compton, California. His father, Wally Howard, was a sign painter, and Kenneth learned to letter and pinstripe professionally by the age of 10. He was one of the original guys that experimented with pinstriping, and he was the first to develop a distinctive style and his striping was the first modern technique to become really popular.[2]


Dutch

While attending Compton High School, Kenneth excelled in track and field, and he was referred to as "the fastes 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.[3]


The kid can stripe!

Von Dutch was working at George Birop's motorcycle shop in the vicinity and had a reputation for being a good striper and painter. At the time motorcycles were about the only vehicles that had pinstriping on them. One of the bikes rebuilt by the shop needed to be restriped, Dutch's father who was a sign painter, didn't pinstripe vehicles, but he used striping brushes in his work. Kenny had seen how to use them, and he tried to stripe the vehicle. The next day, when he showed it to the guys in the shop, they couldn't believe that the Dutch kid had done it. In order to prove his skills, Kenny striped another motorcycle while they were watching.[2]


I DON'T STRIPE BOATS

In his youth, back in the 1950s, Keith Christensen used to hang out at Von Dutch's shop, "which was a garage attached to a motorcycle shop in Compton," he told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2020. "I started, out of first, with idle curiosity and then admiration of the works of Von Dutch. I would go over after class at high school and just "hang out."" Keith recalled that there always was something to look at on the walls or a job in progress by him. "What a world of real art. As I remember, he had a picture on the wall of a giant battleship, with a handwritten caption on it by him, saying "I DON'T STRIPE BOATS."" Back then, Von Dutch's talent and interest were mainly motorcycles, not cars. "He had small inventions sitting around that he was in progress with and they were genius in their design. I remember a motorized set of roller skates that were powered by model airplane motors and the rider had a backpack with a small battery and a fuel tank hooked to the skates. He used one axle as the drive axle, using the shaft of the airplane engine hooked to the wheel. He was mad that he couldn't solve the puzzle of two things, ONE, to be able to not go in circles, due to only one drive axle and SECOND, how to stop as he had to set the motor speed by hand before starting the engine."[4]


An accident of necessity

Von Dutch recalled that his particular style of pinstriping sort of grew out of an accident of necessity. While he was working for George Barris and Barris Kustoms guys would bring their newly customized cars to the shop, asking George and Sam them to fix them up. An easy way to cover up sloppy bodywork was with paint.[2]


Long straight lines

Credited for starting the abstract pinstriping craze so popular with custom cars and motorcycles, Von Dutch told Terry Cook that the hardest thing to paint was a long straight line, "which is of course true. When I asked him if it was factual that he was the first to paint flames on a car he said he first did it on motorcycles, but "Hell, the Lafayette Escadrille painted flames on their airplanes in WWI." One time he did a full flame job on a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing coupe and he said "I thought they were goIng to lynch me for desecrating a shrine.'"[5]

Dutched or ditched?

If you wanted your car custom-striped in Southern California back in the 1950s, you would ask for it to be "Dutched." Keith Christensen remembers that there were many days that he would arrive at the shop and Von Dutch wasn't there. "There was always a line of four or five cars waiting to be pinstriped. When we heard the roar of a motorcycle coming down the road, we would all look up in unison to see him pulling in on his 1940s Indian motorcycle. A wreck of a bike with a side shifter hooked to the gas tank and suicide clutch. He would park the bike, put the kickstand down and walk over to the door of his shop and unlock it. Totally oblivious to the customers standing there and their cars sitting in line. He would turn on the lights inside, turn on the radio, get some of his brushes out and a few cans of paint set on the bench. He would stroll around the inside of the shop, "Yawn", stretch and walk over, turn the radio off, lights off, and come out and lock the door. Everyone watching him the total time - again, ignoring everyone, he would start his bike and roar away down the highway !!"[4]


The next day the same people would be patiently standing in front of his shop, "hoping for Von Dutch to work on their car. A couple of times, he would walk over to me and say "C'mon and we would walk over to a tiny restaurant next door and have a sandwich. All the total time the patient customers would just stand there! When the mood and the setting were right he would produce some of the greatest works," Christensen recalled. "Real Artistry in the finest!"[4]


Barris Kustoms with a K

George Barris hired Von Dutch on a part-time basis to do paintwork for him. The first job Von Dutch did for Barris Kustoms was to paint the business sign on the outside of the building. According to himself he fooled with the spelling and came up with a "K" instead of a "C" to spell custom, and thereby establishing the Barris' phrase "Kustom Car."[6] While still working out of his shop on 7674 Compton Avenue Barris's Custom Shop used the phrases "Kustom Automobiles" and "Kustom Auto Painting" in their advertising. So I guess this kills Von Dutch's story.


A multi-talent

Von Dutch was a multitalented artist. In addition to pinstriping, ha was also a gunsmith, kustom painter, knife maker, sign painter, inventor, customizer, and a fine artist. Von Dutch also did a lot of special effects for movies and was a consultant for period movies because he was a gun expert. The man was a genius and could make something out of anything. He was mostly interested in motorcycles but did also customize some cars. One of the cars he restyled was based on a Cord and a Cadillac, so he named it the Cordillac. Another automotive creation by Von Dutch was his truck the Kenford.[7]


The stolen letters

Keith Christensen remembers having a sandwich with Von Dutch when he suddenly pulls a letter out of his pocket and waved it cussing! "He said it was a letter to his girlfriend and he couldn't figure out why she hadn't got his previous letters. On the back of the envelope was the most beautiful desert scene penciled on it by him. It was so perfect! It even showed an uncanny dimension, all on the back of that small envelope. Someone at the postal service was stealing his letters for the art they had on them."[8]


The Flying Eyeball

Von Dutch claimed that he started drawing flying eyeballs at the age of 18.[9] His sister Virginia Howard Reyes told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama that she was there the first time he drew it, and she could confirm that her brother drew it in 1948.[7] Dean Jeffries on the other hand claims that he invented the trademarked Flying Eyeball in 1951. According to Dean, Kenny used to paint a third eyeball on his forehead. This gave Jeffries an idea, and in 1951 he designed a logo with an eyeball and wings that he later trademarked. The logo is known as "The Flying Eyeball". Kenny kept using it, and Jeffries never bothered to make a deal out of it. Jeffries still owned the right when he passed away, but somebody else had started making big bucks out of the design together with the Von Dutch Brand.[10] Virginia Howard Reyes recalled tha Ed Roth created another version of "The Flying Eyeball" before Dean Jeffries. "Dean Jeffries drew one with a roller skate on it, Jeffries eyeball is his own creation and not the same as Von Dutch's, and no one is fighting over Jeffries eyeball because it never became as popular as Von Dutch," she told Kustomrama.[7]


Eccentric

Von Dutch was known as an eccentric artist. In an interview with Hot Rod Magazine March 1977, he tells about a guy visiting his shop bugging him to stripe his car. He really got him mad, so he decided to give him a little surprise, as he put cobwebs and spiders all over his car. Another customer who was foolish enough to pressure Von Dutch into a quick job he didn't want to do got a striping job that wouldn't dry, as Von Dutch had mixed a lot of oil into the paint.[6] In Hot Rod Magazine April 1989 Pat Ganahl also tells stories about a firetruck Von Dutch was hired to do traditional pinstriping on for a station in Arizona. Once completed Von Dutch had flamed the truck instead. When racers brought him grille inserts from Model A's or 32s, half the time he would stripe them upside down. Pat had also heard a story about a customer that got a car striped. When the customer got back to the shop Von Dutch had pinstriped one side of the car differently than the other. When brought the car back to Von Dutch, Von Dutch would tell him: "Who can see both sides of your car at the same time? Why should they be the same? This way, you get two different designs on your car to enjoy for the price of one."[2] Also if somebody tried to dicker on the price, Von Dutch would raise the figure instead of lowering it.[6]


The Crazy Arab's Competition Body Shop

Von Dutch got a little too moody and eccentric for Barris Kustoms, so he moved his operation uptown to "The Crazy Arab's" Competition Body Shop at 7201 West Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1955.[11]


Von Dutch and The Kid

After Von Dutch moved, George Barris asked Dean Jeffries, aka "The Kid" if he would sublease a shop space in the Barris Kustoms Lynwood shop. Dean Jeffries used to hang around Von Dutch at the beginning of his career. In the book Dean Jeffries 50 Fabulous Years in Hot Rods, Racing and Film Dean admits that it was Von Dutch that learned him to pinstripe. As Dean spent a lot of time around Von Dutch, the duo became known as Von Dutch and "The Kid".[10] Before Dean "Jeff" Jeffries rented space at the Barris Kustoms shop he was working out of George Cerny's Cerny's Custom Shop.[12]


National fame

In 1955 Von Dutch made a personal appearance at the 1955 Motorama where he striped a 1927 Studebaker for 10 days, he achieved national fame in Car Craft February 1956.[13]


Red red wine

In 1956 Von Dutch pinstriped and airbrushed Bill Daniels' 1950 Oldsmobile. Bill was 18 years old when he stopped by to get the car Dutched. It featured louvers in any area available. 200 in the hood, 100 on the deck lid, and on all interior garnish moldings, and Von Dutch told him that anyone crazy enough to have louvers on the trunk deserves flames which he airbrushed. "He also individually striped each louver, and there were hundreds. He didn't want anyone watching, said to go home, come back in 8 hours and guaranteed, you will be happy," Bill told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2020. "When I first made the appointment, he said to be sure and bring a half-gallon of red wine along with the car."[14]


"If you keep poor, the struggle is simple"

Von Dutch said in a 1965 interview, "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."[5]


Tempe, Arizona shop

In the early 1970s Von Dutch ran a shop on Princess Drive in Tempe, Arizona. At the time, he had a partner called "Heavy". Heavy was a "non-producer" and the partnership didn't last long.[15]


Back in LA

Terry Cook worked at Hot Rod Magazine from 1972 to 1974. While he was working for the magazine he heard that Von Dutch was back in the LA area after "hiding out" in Arizona for years. "I sought him out as I wanted to meet the legend," Terry told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2020. "He was an amazing, talented, funny and interesting guy. He was literally from another time, dimension, or galaxy. He was working for his long time patron Jim Brucker at Cars of the Stars in Buena Park. Dutch was a true Renaissance man who could fix or build anything out of wood, metal, glass or whatever substrate was on hand. He was a locksmith, clocksmith, gunsmith, mechanic, engraver, car and motorcycle fabricator and painter, welder, sign painter, and pinstriper all rolled into one. When I met him he was only 43, but it must have been a lot of hard years of abusing his body with alcohol and tobacco as even then he looked “old” with lots of facial wrinkles and failing eyesight."[5]


Suspicious mind

Terry Cook recalled that Von Dutch was very suspicious of him when he first met him at his shop and later at his rented home in Buena Park. "Even after I showed him my name in the masthead of HOT ROD and showed him my driver’s license to prove my identity, he was still not convinced. He told me he had never paid income tax and I eventually surmised because he was possibly mildly paranoid schizophrenic (my own diagnosis), he feared the IRS might be looking for him. He was a modern-day hermit of sorts."[5]


Coffee, beer, reefer, jazz, and a flute

Over time Terry Cook would visit Von Dutch periodically in his shop in Buena Park. "When he worked, he had a military-style web belt with all sorts of wrenches, tools, etc., hanging from it, so they were always handy. Because his eyesight was failing, he often wore a flip-up/down jewelers magnifying glass that positioned the lenses about 3 inches in front of his eyes when it was time for close up work. And he always seemed to wear army boots and denim bib overalls. When you looked at his engraving and pinstriping, you could see it was not as precise as it might have been in his earlier years. He would rise and set with the sun. He would drink coffee in the morning and drink Coors beer in the afternoon and smoke reefer if it was available. No drugs harder than marijuana. With the jazz radio station in the background, he would occasionally pick up his flute and play along with the radio. Not a great flutist, but better than you or me," Cook recalled.[5]


Because he drank too much, Terry soon learned it was wise not to be around him in the later afternoon as the alcohol often made him belligerent. "I never attended them but at the annual Rat Fink Reunions with Ed Roth, Robert Williams and other Kustom Kulture artists and legends, I understood they didn't want Dutch around. The reason? In the evening he would become unruly, and he often packed a gun. He was a bad drunk. Being paranoid and a little bit nuts, I've said that "Von Dutch was not playing with a full deck, but all his cards were aces!"[5]


Many stories

According to his sister Virginia Howard Reyes most of the stories being told about Von Dutch are just stories. Some are somewhat true, but almost all of the stories on him are all different because he never gave a straight answer, and liked to play with you. When he told you something, you believed it, and he got a kick out of it. According to Virginia he never lied, he hated liars and was very honest. He wasn't eccentric as a young boy, but since he was quite different from the norm, his family always knew he had something special in him.[7]


Living and working in a bus

After a controller from the building inspector's office started bugging Von Dutch for having antiquated machinery in his shop, he decided to move into a public transportation bus, since there is nothing in the vehicle code that says anything about how old the machinery can be.[6]


When Brucker closed Cars of the Stars and moved all his belongings to a large fenced compound in Santa Paula, north of Santa Barbara, Dutch lived there in the small sleeping compartment in the rear of his bus. It was a 1950 GM TGH-3102, 27-foot-long, with a 270-cu.in. GMC straight-six. The front 2/3 contained his machinery, lathe, drill press, industrial compressor, and associated hardware. When he would work on a Steve McQueen movie he would park the bus on the movie set, live in it, and make whatever props were needed. The bus was restored and was later owned by Steve Kafka of Arizona.[5]


Machinery

One of the things Von Dutch enjoyed doing most was building and working on machinery. Building an engine from scratch, see it grow, have it make heat, and power, would beat Frankenstein's monster to Von Dutch.[6]


Antique motorcycles

Von Dutch spent a lot of time restoring antique motorcycles with Bud Edkins.[6]


Von Dutch the Artist

Dutch was a lot of things, but first and foremost, he was an artist. Terry Cook remembers one of his objet d'art hanging from the ceiling at Cars of the Stars was a 4 foot wide by 2 foot high sheet of clear plexiglass. "On one side he painted a cut down motorcycle. Matching up when seen from the other side there was a naked man with his arms extending forward to the front axle where the forks should be and rear legs folded to contain the rear wheels. The two images lined up precisely and the surrounding background was clear regardless of which side you viewed it from." Cook has a relative who is ingrained into the highest level fine arts museums in the USA. "I've asked her. "How come this painting is worth a fortune? I don't understand." That's all a mystery to me. But now that I think of it after seeing some of Dutch's art, I know when I see his brilliance. It's like a modern Picasso."[5]


Cars Painted or Pinstriped by Von Dutch

Paul Sylva's 1927 Ford Model T Roadster
Jack Chrisman's 1929 Ford Model A Tudor
Tom Pollard's 1929 Ford Roadster
Jim Helmuth's 1932 Ford Roadster
Manuel Gonzalez's 1940 Ford Coupe
Bruce Gonzales' 1941 Willys Coupe Gasser
Buster Litton's 1949 Ford
Richard Clar's 1949 Oldsmobile Coupe
Bill Daniels' 1950 Oldsmobile
Bob Hirohata's 1951 Mercury
Philip Sauers' 1951 Mercury - Sashta
Paul Lehrbass' 1952 Pontiac Catalina
Louie Gaulrapp's 1954 Chevrolet
Spencer Murray's 1954 Chevrolet Hardtop
Harry Hanford's 1954 Lotus
Dick Jackson's 1954 Mercury Monterey
Keith Christensen's 1955 Buick
Merlin Windham's 1955 Buick - "Dragon Wagon"
Bud McNair's 1955 Chevrolet 210
Perry Gardner's 1955 Chevrolet
George Contaoi's 1955 Ford F-100
Ina Mae Overman's 1955 Ford Thunderbird
Earl Bruce's Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
El Caballo II


Von Dutch's personal rides

The Kenford


Recommended books about Von Dutch

Von Dutch: The Art, the Myth, the Legend - By Pat Ganahl
Kustom Kulture: Von Dutch, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Robert Williams and Others - By Ron Turner and Robert Williams


References




 

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