The Life and Times of Kenny
Kenny Howard was just 15 years old when he started working for George Beerup. Beerup owned a motorcycle shop and Howard started there in the 1940s. In the middle part of the 1950s car customizing was a hot field as street racers and drag racers wanted something that looked new and different, but also set them apart from the crowd. They turned to pin striping, which hadn’t been done in nearly twenty years.
Howard had experience in painting and design since his father was fairly well known for the same thing. He began experimenting with pinstripes on motorcycles, using old paintbrushes belonging to his dad. Beerup saw some of Howard’s work and decided to use him in their automobile painting department. Howard started going by his nickname Von Dutch and focused on pin striping work.
Von Dutch was fairly well known for his work, which many claimed look better than anyone else could create. He frequently moved around, working for different shops. He focused primarily on motorcycles, but also worked on a few cars. Eventually he began working full-time detailing and painting cars. After three years he decided that he couldn’t handle the pressure associated with the job and gave it up.
At the time though, people were coming from all over the country just to get his work on their vehicle. Some even handed over money and told him to do what he wanted because they wanted his style, but not a particular design. The style and design of his work was so popular that he had imitators and followers working in the same style. The Barris Brothers, Tweetie, Big Daddy Ed Roth and Shakey Jake are only a few examples of his followers.
Von Dutch was unique in that he didn’t care about money. He seldom took more money from his jobs than he needed to ensure basic survival. He stated that money made things more complicated and he preferred the simpler things in life. The amount of money customers threw at him was one of the reasons why he decided to leave the life.
After living and working in Arizona, he decided to head to California. He began working at Cars of the Stars, taking over the job once held by Big Daddy Roth during the 1970s. After that shop closed, he stayed in an old warehouse and became something of an eccentric. He continued making items like custom built motorcycles and cars that no one would consider giving up as a car donation.
Von Dutch was known for his logo, which took the design of a Flying Eyeball. He claimed that the eyeball dealt with reincarnation, which was a concept in which he deeply believed. He also created something known as the Dutch Bus or Dutch’s Bus. He received the bus in exchange for a paint job and turned it into a home by creating his own living space inside. It also featured a work area where he sketched out his designs.
For more on Von Dutch:
- Von Dutch Bus Sells: discusses the selling of his famous bus.
- Von Dutch’s GM Transit Bus: article which discusses and has pictures of Von Dutch’s famous bus.
- Money Isn’t an Object for Von Dutch Lovers: focuses on the price of his items in the current world.
- Von Dutch Kustom Cycles: motorcycles created in the Von Dutch style.
- Kenny Howard: a short biography of the artist.
- Kenneth Howard on Rumpsville.com: the website for hotrod purists has a detailed section about Von Dutch and refers to him as one of the “Kings of Kustom”.
Von Dutch passed away in 1992, but his legacy still remains today. His name lives on thanks to the Von Dutch company, which uses his name on their clothing. Although it is great to donate a car when you’re done with it, to give away a Von Dutch original would be insane. They’re more than just vehicles; they’re works of art.