Remembering Ed Vebell

Andra Vebell writes:

My father, Ed Vebell, passed away peacefully at home last night. He was 96.

He had had congestive heart failure for some time now, but was bound and determined to make it to the opening of his show at the Westport Historical Society less than 2 weeks ago.

It was uncanny how he made it to that and then allowed himself to go. The show was the perfect sendoff for him, being surrounded by family and friends who were there to honor his lifetime of work.

In addition to Andra, Ed is survived by his daughters Renee Vebell and Victoria Vebell, and 3 grandsons: Jason Cohen, Dylan Hoy and Colin Hoy. 

In June of 2016, I posted this story on Ed. It too serves as a fitting reminder of his life:

At 95 years old, Ed Vebell could be ready to slow down.

The Westport artist has had quite a life. Here’s a quick summary:

During World War II he was an illustrator/reporter for Stars and Stripes newspaper. He’d be dropped off at a battle scene, told to find a story, then picked up 3 days later.

Ed Vebell, in Norman Rockwell-esque style, illustrates his own illustration.

Ed Vebell, in Norman Rockwell-esque style, illustrates his own illustration. The print sits atop many others in Ed’s studio.

After the war, he worked for French magazines (and covered the Nuremberg war trials). When she was 18, Grace Kelly posed for Ed. His first girlfriend was a star of the the Folies Bergère.

Two of Ed's sketches from the Nuremberg trials.

Two of Ed’s sketches from the Nuremberg trials.

Back in the States, he contributed to Time, Reader’s Digest and other publications. Specializing in military art, he drew uniforms from around the world for encyclopedias and paperback publishers. He worked for MBI too, illustrating the history of America from Leif Erikson through the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, and every war up to Vietnam.

Ed designed US stamps — some with military themes, some not.

One of Ed's US postage stamps.

One of Ed’s US postage stamps.

Oh yeah: He reached the semifinals of the 1952 Olympics, representing our country in fencing.

As I said, 95-year-old Ed Vebell could be slowing down.

He’s not. His latest project is selling his vast collection of uniforms.

They sprawl throughout the wonderful studio in his Compo Beach home, and in several other rooms. There are Revolutionary and Civil War uniforms, German helmets and Franco-Prussian gear. Buffalo Bill Cody’s hat is there too, in a bathtub surrounded by tons of other stuff.

He would have even more. But Hurricane Sandy wiped out his basement.

Two of Ed's many uniforms hang on a file cabinet.

Two of Ed’s many uniforms hang on a file cabinet.

Ed’s collection began years ago. He could rent a uniform for $15. But for just $10 more, he could buy it. That made sense; he had so much work, he needed plenty of uniforms.

So why is he selling?

“I’m 95,” he says simply. “I can’t keep them forever.”

Two auctions have already been held. He’s talking to more auction houses, and individual buyers too.

He knows each item. He points with pride to his Native American collection of bonnets, saddles and war shirts. He knows the differences between every tribe.

For years, he was hired for illustrations by editors out West. Why not use an artist closer by? he asked.

“We trust you,” they said.

Ed Vebell, in his Compo Beach studio.

Ed Vebell, in his Compo Beach studio.

The Civil War holds a special place in Ed’s heart. Years ago, he staged entire battle scenes in a Weston field. Models wore Yankee and rebel uniforms. Ed took photos, and worked from them.

He did the same with cowboys and Indians. “Those were great shows,” he recalls. “We had horses, riders, muskets and tomahawks. We entertained the whole neighborhood.”

It may be time to sell all those uniforms. But that’s not Ed’s only project.

At 95, he’s just finished two more picture books.

So now he’s looking around for his next one.

Ed drew this in 1944.

Ed Vebell drew this in 1944, in Italy.


12 responses to “Remembering Ed Vebell

  1. Bruce Fernie - SHS 1970

    A wonderful man, a great talent and a good friend of my Dad. I have a few great memories as a young boy being dragged to his studio on a Saturday morning so my father could borrow (or return) a piece of board needed for that Monday morning deadline. RIP Mr Vebell.

  2. Kathie Bennewitz

    What a loss for Westport –and how fortunate the WHS honored him in such a lovely way. He was an amazing man with a rich fascinating life and career. He is one of those people who you carry around with you in your memory as meeting–We will always cherish him as a wondertail artist, engaging, thoughtful and inspiring individual. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

  3. What a wonderful life story. My sympathies to Andra and her family.

  4. I’m Amazed and inspired by Ed’s work, collections and achievements. I wish I knew him. RIP Ed.

  5. Michael Calise

    Truly inspirational. His show at the historical society is a wonderful testament to his life work. My condolences to his family. I am sure he will missed but he leaves quite a legacy

  6. Sorry for your loss Andra, I’ll miss my chats with him at the end of the road, he was an interesting,smart guy and led a cool life. RIP

  7. To Andra and her family. Very sorry to hear about your Dad. What a incredible life. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  8. Diana Pils Marino

    I’m so sorry Andra. My thoughts and prayers to you and your entire family. Your Father sounded like an amazing man and had a very full and loving life. How inspirational. May he rest in peace now.
    Diana Pils Staples ’79

  9. We at Westport Historical Society are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Ed Vebell. He was truly a remarkable and inspirational person and we are honored to have played a small part in recognizing his vast artistic legacy of service to country and community. We feel fortunate and grateful to have had him with us for the opening of The Curious Case of Ed Vebell less than two weeks ago and offer our most sincere condolences to his family and friends.

  10. Mr. Vebell was outstanding as one of the many artists that made Westport the Artist’s Community it was known for. Thanks to Nina and Shirley for introducing me. He was always available with suggestions or a source for props in my photography projects, a truly inspirational person.

  11. Very sad with this news. I am from Brasil and I knew Ed by Brazilian edition of Reader’s Digest, here called “Seleções”. It was more than 40 years ago. Dreamed about to meet Ed personally, but I couldn’t. What a great man and life. Rest in peace.

  12. Phil Bouasse

    Dear Andra,
    Thank you so much for sharing. Please find below email i sent to Victoria Vebell.

    Dear Victoria,

    From Paris. Your father was by far the oldest of all my friends and i was so sad to learn about his passing away. RIP cher ami! My (late) sympathies to you and all family. I got in touch with Ed last year as i was doing some art history researches on Post-WW2 illustration in Paris. I was able to find a rare and ragged copy of “Qui ?”, a mystery and adventures weekly french magazine of that time. It was launched after the war but did not last very long. The copy is dated June 1946. I wanted to learn more about the great illustration on the cover. It was credited to Ed Vebell, whom i had never heard of. Doing more Internet researches, i was able to track a telephone number in Connecticut. What was my surprise to hear an old man’s voice answering my call! “I am trying to learn more about an american illustrator who worked in Paris after the Second World War”, i explained. “This is me, young man. I am Ed Vebell, the illustrator that you are looking for. How can i help you ? Que puis-je faire pour vous ?” Your father not only was a true gentleman, but he could also speak some very good french! Also, his memories were crystal clear, he remembered very accurately places, street names and people. I was stunned.

    We began a conversation that lasted until the end of 2017. I learned so much from him about what was Paris after the war. His story was so amazing that i wanted to write about it: his work as an artist/photographer on the staff for “Stars and Stripes” daily military magazine, covering the War from North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, culminating in the Fall of Berlin and assigned as courtroom artist during the Nuremberg War Trials in November 1945. How fascinating. But the following years were even more thrilling, when Ed decided to settle in Paris, after meeting Lysiane Heraud, a beautiful french dancer from world-renown Folies Bergère cabaret music hall. An amazing two-years busy and crazy period during the “Liberation” days, working 12 hours a day for the french nascent magazine publishers, fencing training and spending long nights with the dancers in the backstage of Folies Bergère… Actually, Ed told me that he had the full story already written and documented with many sketches and photos of dancers. His US publisher Schiffer was not willing to publish it (too many naked bodies, Ed explained!). I really wanted to help Ed and maybe find a publisher in Paris. Ed sent me the material – texts and photos -, i tried as hard as i could, even considering having Ed come to Paris for an exhibition of his work. He was going for it! I had no news from him, tried to call him several times over the last months with no success, until learning on 06880 website that he had passed away. I had great news to tell him: i had received the opportunity to write about him for a prestigious french illustration magazine that could well open doors for the publishing of his book.
    Oh well, I will write the article anyway. Thank you for the inspiration, Ed Vebell. You had an amazing life, you were a wonderful and generous character. Your wonderful work will never be forgotten.
    Bien sincèrement,