Key Figures

Kenny Howard. AKA Von Dutch

Kenneth Howard AKA Von Dutch

Kenny Howard Dutch, Von Dutch, or J. L. Bachs (Joe Lunch Box), was a motorcycle mechanic, artist, pinstriper, metal fabricator, knifemaker and gunsmith. Von Dutch was a man, a legend and a piece of popular American culture known as the “GODFATHER OF MODERN DAY PINSTRIPING” & “ORIGINATOR OF KUSTOM KULTURE”

Born in 1929 and the son of a well-known sign painter and gold-leaf man at a shop in South Los Angeles, Von Dutch had a leg up in fulfilling his destiny as the Godfather of Modern Day Pinstriping.

At the age of 15, Von Dutch took a job as a mechanic at George Beerup’s Motorcycle Shop, at a time when pinstriping on cars and motorcycles was a dead art.  While working at Beerup’s Shop, he would sometimes take a motorcycle home and pinstripe just for the sake of art.  He would bring them back to the shop and the shop owner was amazed at what Von Dutch could create and while that may have ended his short lived tenure as a mechanic as the shop, he was now in painting and striping. Over the next decade Von Dutch honed his art form and built his reputation as the Godfather of Modern Day Pinstriping.

The money code that Von Dutch lived by was simply stated in a quote from a 1965 article and reads “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“.  That is not to say that he didn’t make money, he did.  But with his work in such high demand, he did not want to detract from the integrity of his craft with conveyor belt production.  Rather every piece he worked on, he wanted to be precise and an individual work of art with the integrity of his individual touch.

The famous “flyin’ eyeball” logo….what does this all mean?  According to Von Dutch, the flying eyeball originated with the Macedonian and Egyptian cultures about 5000 years ago. It was a symbol meaning “the eye in the sky knows all and sees all.”  Dutch got a hold of this symbol and modified it into the flyin’ eyeball we know of today.  His belief of reincarnation is tied into the logo that all past lives are watching what you do in the present. There have been numerous “incarnations” of this design over the years and it still remains an icon of the ’50s and ’60s street rod crowd.  Mystery solved.
Another iconic piece of Von Dutch history is, of course, the Von Dutch Bus.  Before Von Dutch owned this bus, it began as a Long Beach, California “City Bus” that was given to Dutch by a lady around 1960 as payment for some work. Of course, Von Dutch did not waste anytime setting up living quarters at the rear end of the bus and the front end was converted into a machine shop.  From the stories told the floor of the bus was covered in cigarette butts, beer cans and whatever was worked on over the last month or so, as Von Dutch was not known for his housekeeping skills.  Today the Von Dutch bus is owned by Steve Kafka, who took the time to restore it, and save a piece of Americana.

The stories of Von Dutch are a seemingly endless tale.  If you are looking to read this American tale at home about Von Dutch, there is only one book and that book is called “THE ART OF VON DUTCH”.  What is covered inside of this book will simply blow your mind.

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Ed “Big Daddy” Roth

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was an artist, cartoonist, illustrator, pinstriper and custom car designer and builder who created the hot-rod icon Rat Fink and other characters. Roth was a key figure in Southern California’s Kustom Kulture and hot-rod movement of the late 1950s and 1960s.

Roth is best known for his caricatures — typified by Rat Fink — depicting imaginative, out-sized monstrosities driving representations of the hot rods that he and his contemporaries built. Roth began airbrushing and selling “Weirdo” T-shirts at car shows and in the pages of Car Craft magazine as early as July 1958. By the August 1959 issue of Car Craft “Weirdo shirts” had become a full blown craze with Roth at the forefront of the movement. The article featured Roth along with fellow Kustom Kulture pioneers Dean Jeffries and Pete Millar. Inspired by Roth and Barris Kustoms (whose shirts were airbrushed by Dean Jeffries), Detroit native Stanley Miller, a.k.a. “Stanley Mouse”, began advertising his own shirts in the pages of Car Craft in January 1961. The lesser known Rendina Studios of Detroit and Mad Mac of Cleveland also joined in on the monster “weirdo” shirt craze, but Roth was certainly the man who widely popularized the “Monsters in hot rods” art form.

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Robert Williams

Robert Williams is an American painter, cartoonist, and founder of Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine. Williams was one of the group of artists who produced Zap Comix, along with other underground cartoonists, such as Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, and Gilbert Shelton. His mix of California car culture, cinematic apocalypticism, and film noir helped to create a new genre of psychedelic imagery.

Robert Williams was this artist who brought the term “lowbrow” into the fine arts lexicon, with his ground breaking 1979 book, The Lowbrow Art of Robt. Williams. It was from this point that he seminal elements of West Coast Outlaw culture slowly started to aggregate.

Williams pursued a career as a fine arts painter years before joining the art studio of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in the mid-1960’s. And as this position as the famous custom car builder’s art director, he moved into the rebellious, anti-war circles of early underground comix.

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Sailor Jerry

Norman Keith Collins (January 14, 1911 – June 12, 1973) was a prominent American tattoo artist, famous for his tattooing of sailors; he was also known as “Sailor Jerry”.

Collins was born in Reno but grew up in Northern California. As a child he hopped freight trains across the country and learned tattooingfrom a man named “Big Mike” from Palmer, Alaska, originally using the hand-pricking method. In the late 1920s he met Tatts Thomas from Chicago who taught him how to use a tattoo machine. He practiced on drunks brought in from Skid Row. He later sailed the Pacific Ocean before settling in Hawaii in the 1930s.

At age 19, Collins enlisted in the United States Navy. During his subsequent travels at sea, he was exposed to the art and imagery of Southeast Asia. During his career as a tattoo artist, he worked as a licensed skipper of a large three-masted schooner, on which he conducted tours of the Hawaiian islands.

In addition to sailing and tattooing, he played the saxophone in his own dance band and frequently hosted his own radio show on KTRG (AM) where he was known as “Old Ironsides”.

His influence on the art of modern tattooing is undeniable and a documentary movie called “Hori Smoku” sheds a lot of light on the details. He wanted at least one of three proteges/friends – Ed Hardy, Mike Malone, or Zeke Owens – to take over his shop (or else burn it) when he passed.

An annual event now takes place in Hawaii called the “Sailor Jerry Festival” to honor Collins’s legacy and Chinatown roots on Oahu. The locally and independently produced event includes live music, DJ’s, cabaret performances, movie screenings, a pin-up fashion show – where models wear outfits designed from Sailor Jerry flash, neighborhood tours, and tattoos available at two area shops, including Sailor Jerry’s last location.

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