Ed Vebell knew what he wanted to do at a young age but probably didn\u2019t realize how far his talent would take him. \u201cI still remember lying on the floor in front of a pot-bellied stove at age 6 and announcing to my mom, \u2018I\u2019m going to be an artist,\u2019\u201d said Vebell, a Westport resident. Beginning in his late teens in his native Chicago, Vebell began a long career as a professional artist in the military, journalism and advertising. He took some art classes as a youth but was mostly self-taught. His skills would take him to World War II battlefields, to the Nuremberg trials, and into the lives of military leaders, sports legends and entertainers. His illustrations appeared regularly in Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, and Reader\u2019s Digest. His art was on everything from Wheaties cereal boxes to U.S. postage stamps. He also was a world-class fencer, competing in the 1952 Olympics and inducted into the U.S. Fencing Hall of Fame. He traveled extensively in Europe and Africa and learned to speak four languages fluently \u2014 including Lithuanian, which was his heritage \u2014 as well as some Arabic and Russian. Vebell\u2019s wide-ranging professional and personal adventures are the subject of an exhibit, \u201cThe Curious Case of Ed Vebell,\u201d at the Westport Historical Society through April 16. It showcases his artwork and memorabilia he collected through the years, much of it from World War II, but also Buffalo Bill\u2019s hat and an African lion hunting spear. The society\u2019s Nicole Carpenter described Vebell as \u201can extremely interesting and funny man who had a great career. He\u2019s more than a famous wartime sketch artist. He\u2019s an amazing local personality. He met so many kinds of people.\u201d Carpenter said his life story and the exhibit highlight \u201ca deeper message of tolerance and the power of artwork on society.\u201d Vebell called the show \u201ca culmination\u201d of his achievements and said he\u2019d outlived his counterparts in the many phases of his life. \u201cI\u2019m the last of the Westport Artists Group, the last World War II artist, the last of all the breeds,\u201d he said. He recently published a book on his wartime artistic endeavors, An Artist at War: The WWII Memories of Stars and Stripes Artist Ed Vebell. When drafted into the Army during World War II in 1942, Vebell was trained as an aircraft gunner. But the Army was looking for artists \u2014 and he fit the bill. He painted camouflage on planes and soon was illustrating for Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, which he continued doing until 1947. It brought him acclaim and notoriety. \u201cI was lucky I had talent,\u201d he said. \u201cI was good at quick-sketch, and it\u2019s what they needed.\u201d He became the official courtroom artist for the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders. \u201cGoering was the closest one to me. He looked like he was still in charge, wondering, \u2018What are they doing to me?\u2019\u201d Vebell said of Nazi military and political leader Hermann Goering, who was convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes and then committed suicide by swallowing cyanide before his execution. Vebell\u2019s artistic reputation from the war and post-war period in Europe allowed him to get high-profile assignments with U.S. magazines when he returned home. He said he specialized in \u201cmacho World War II\u201d images and \u201cpretty girls\u201d as well as sports. He settled in Westport, a town known for its artists and being close to the media world of New York City. \u201cThere were a lot of talented artists here,\u201d Vebell said. \u201cWe\u2019d have parties about once a week, meeting in restaurants and bringing our drawings.\u201d Vebell gave back to the community, speaking to student and adult groups about his art and being a high school fencing instructor. For 28 years, he completed five drawings a month for Reader\u2019s Digest, then the most circulated magazine in the country. \u201cI was their lead artist,\u201d he said. \u201cI worked very fast.\u201d His art studio was full of costumes and artifacts \u2014 some are in the exhibit but most were eventually sold at auction \u2014 that he used to turn around assignments quickly. \u201cThey all knew I could deliver quickly, which they treasured,\u201d he said. He stopped drawing in the 1970s because of hand problems. \u201cI wish I could still do it,\u201d Vebell said. Perhaps his favorite person of those he met while on assignment was tennis legend Arthur Ashe, an African American sports trailblazer. He also became quite fond of golfer Jack Nicklaus. Vebell offered advice on how to live a long life: Stay physically fit, mentally active and eat well. \u201cI was as strong as a horse,\u201d he said of his physical condition when younger. In addition to fencing, he lifted weights, swam, rode horses, and did a little boxing and wrestling. His lifelong eating habits consisted of having a big breakfast of all fresh fruit in the morning and then nothing until dinner. Vebell had a lot of girlfriends when younger, he said, but proposed only twice \u2014 to his longtime wife, Elsa, now deceased, and to actress and future princess Grace Kelly. He met them both around the same time in Manhattan in the 1950s. \u201cBoth were aristocrats. I had to quickly make up my mind. And,\u201d he said with a wry smile, \u201cI tried hard to do that.\u201d The Westport Historical Society, 25 Avery Place, is open Monday to Saturday. Learn more at westporthistory.org or call 203-222-1424. Editor\u2019s note: Ed Vebell died on Feb. 10 at the age of 96, prior to the publication of this feature.