In 1953, Ed Vebell was starting to make a name as an artist. He’d spent World War II as an illustrator/reporter for Stars and Stripes. He stayed in Europe a while, covering the Nuremberg trials and drawing 18-year-old Grace Kelly.
Now he, his wife Elsa Cerra and their 3-year-old daughter Vicki lived in New York. He hung out at the Society of Illustrators, eating and schmoozing with well-known artists.
One day, he spotted a bulletin board notice of a house for sale. He knew nothing about the town — Westport, Connecticut — but it had an artist’s studio with a large north light window.
That was huge: No shadows or highlights on the canvas or drawing board.
The seller was Austin Briggs. A renowned illustrator — he drew “Flash Gordon,” worked for Reader’s Digest and the Saturday Evening Post, and was later elected to the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame — that was enough to assure Ed that he was making the right move for himself and his family.
He bought the house, for $29,000 — sight unseen.
When Ed arrived for the first time, he looked down the end of Roosevelt Road. Something blue caught his eye. What was it?
“That’s Long Island Sound, sir,” the broker replied.
Okay, he thought. That’s nice.
The house served Ed and his growing family well. Working in that wonderful studio — enjoying the large north light window — 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 too — some with military themes. The studio was strewn with uniforms, helmets and boots. There was not even enough space for Wild Bill Hickok’s hat. So Ed stashed it in the bathtub.
Last February — less than 2 weeks after appearing at a Westport Historical Society show honoring his long career — Ed Vebell died peacefully, at home. He was 96.
It’s taken his daughters a year to clear out the house, and auction his collections.
But now the home — 9 Quentin Road — is on the market.
Audra Vebell says she and her sisters hope to find someone with “an appreciation of the history and special nature of this house.”
It really is special. For nearly a century, not one but two of America’s most famed illustrators lived and worked there.
In fact, just before he sold it to Ed, Austin signed his name in the garage concrete. It’s still there.
So history — and the spirit of 2 of Westport’s most prominent citizens — still remain.
When it comes to Ed Vebell and Austin Briggs, there must be something in the water.
(Click here for the real estate listing.)