Aged 16, Kenneth Howard taught himself to pinstripe on bicycles, thus revealing his talent to the wider world.
Originally used for decorating horse-drawn carriages, then applied to bikes and automobiles, pinstriping is the freehand painting of fine lines in symmetrical motifs. These “pinstripes” were a distinctive decorative feature of 1950s bodywork in the USA, and over time have become a traditional ingredient of Kustom Kulture.
While painting a store sign, Kenneth decided on a whim to replace the C of Custom by a K, which later became “Kustom Kulture”.
The Kustom Kulture movement, which spread from the USA in the 1950s, spans the whole culture of hot rodding, rockabilly, customised old autos, and pin-ups. It reflects a certain lifestyle, a way of dressing, and a special kind of art.
Kenneth set up his first pinstriping studio. Tall, blond and headstrong, he gave himself the moniker “Von Dutch” in reference to the expression “stubborn as a Dutchman”.
He met with immediate success. Von Dutch became the go-to guy for customising motorbikes and automobiles. Some clients even shipped vehicles from New York City to be Kustomised.
Von Dutch customised all kinds of vehicles: trucks, pick-ups, racing cars, convertibles, roadsters and motorbikes. He also painted on many different media: helmets, tanks, fabrics, canvas, paper, etc.
In the early 1960s, legal problems led to Dean “The Kid Striper” Jeffries taking over the studio. Rumours that Von Dutch was dead spread throughout California, prompting Von Dutch and his friends to create stickers bearing the words “Von Dutch is still A’Live!”
Besides being a renowned pinstriper, Von Dutch was also a gunsmith, kustom painter, knifemaker, signpainter, inventor, weapons customiser, and artist. In the ‘80s, he painted several pictures strongly inspired by Salvador Dali.
On 19 September 1992, Kenneth Howard died from cirrhosis of the liver in his Santa Paula trailer home, at the age of 65. He joined the Kustom Kulture hall of fame through the Kustom Kemps of America association. He left a legacy of thousands of very diverse designs, but above all a non-conformist mindset and a lifestyle. Today, in a very real sense… Von Dutch Is Still A’Live!