Born in Yugoslavia to a Viennese family, Costabel fled her native Zagreb in 1941 during the Nazi occupation. Following the capture and subsequent murder of her father, Costabel, her mother and sister began a flight that included imprisonment in an Italian concentration camp in Croatia. Following the Italian capitulation in 1943, she joined the Yugoslav resistance, first as an army nurse, then as a staff artist for the resistance publications. She often created drawings of the resistance fighters and peasants, which she presented to them as gifts. Costabel’s activity during this time shows the ability of the human spirit to find sustenance in art and beauty in spite of destruction and devastation.
“As a holocaust survivor, I found focus in my art. I lost my community, but art saved my mind,” says Costabel.
Following the war, she realized her dream of becoming an artist with her acceptance at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome to study painting. In 1949, she came to New York City and studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with abstract expressionist Franz Kline. Kline had such a strong influence on her artistic development, introducing her to abstract art which was the prominent style of her painting. In addition, she worked at a window dressing studio and as a package designer. She taught design at FIT, Parsons School of Design and Cooper Union.
“Because of my background in commercial art, I have a professionalism and discipline with my work and an understanding of deadlines.” Her credentials also include children’s author, book illustrator and graphic designer, and she continues to study in the area of computer graphics. “Today, you must be a 21st Century person,” Costabel explains. She recently was chosen by Columbia University Teachers College graduates to participate in an archiving project of the work of older artists.