Ed Reep, whose heroic work as a combat artist during World War II launched a decades-long career that earned national acclaim, died Thursday in Bakersfield surrounded by his family. He was 94.
"Probably he's most well-known for his watercolors," said his daughter, Susan Reep. "World War II is so important and so in focus right now as so many of the World War II veterans aren't with us, and certainly not very many combat artists are left."
Reep, an Army captain, was one of several combat artists featured in the 2000 PBS documentary, "They Drew Fire." Though the program was a thrill for the artist and helped facilitate a reunion between Reep and the son of a man he saved during the war, his combat work "was just a small portion of his career," his daughter said.
"He didn't ever stay with one style. He was unusual in that regard. He liked to experiment with different mediums and different styles. He did abstract work and not a lot of extremely pictorial work. He did some collage but a lot of oil and acrylics and mixed media."
Born in Brooklyn in 1918, Reep moved to Southern California as a child with his parents, who were Russian immigrants. He studied at the California Art Center in Los Angeles and taught watercolor at several prestigious schools, including the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and was an artist in residence at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. He and his wife, Karen Patricia, moved to Bakersfield 27 years ago to be near their adult children.
"He lived a life that not very many people nowadays can appreciate. Born to immigrant parents, he was lost temporarily on the Brooklyn Bridge during the excitement of the World War 1 armistice in his baby buggy; [he was a man] whose family moved to California and brought over relatives one by one as they could afford to, who grew up in the Great Depression, went through World War II." Susan Reep recalled.
"One thing my dad said over and over was that he loved to work. I don't know anyone who worked harder than my dad at his job, around the house, building things. He could fix anything except cars."
In recent years, tremors robbed Reep of his ability to paint, which was a "disappointment" to the artist, his daughter said. The family had just moved Reep into Rosewood Retirement Community in the southwest eight days before his death, hastened by an aortic valve problem.
"He was an amazing man, a strong, courageous man who always tried to do the right thing. Besides being an amazing artist and great father, we're all really really proud of him. His former students are making posts (on social media). He touched so many lives. He had an outsized influence," she added.
Funeral arrangement were incomplete Thursday, but his daughter said the family would like to bury Reep at the National Cemetery outside Bakersfield.
The artist is survive by his children and their spouses: Susan Reep and Mark Smith of Bakersfield; Cris Reep and Bill McDougle of Bakersfield; Janine Reep and Jay Hubbard of Juneau, Alaska; Mitchell Reep of Salem, Ore.. seven grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren and one more on way, who will be named Edward in Reep's honor
Reep's wife, Karen Patricia Reep, died in June 2011.