Edith Dallas Ernst married into one of the most influential art families of the 20th century, and she became inextricably linked to them and their accomplishments, but she was not one to rest lightly on others’ laurels.
The 88-year-old widow of Jimmy Ernst, who died of lung cancer on June 2, was actually a superior to her husband when they met as employees at Warner Brothers Studio in 1946, as he always enjoyed mentioning. She was working as a talent scout and he was in the art department. They married in 1947, and Mr. Ernst died in 1984.
Ms. Ernst was born in Riverdale, N.Y. in 1923 to Henry and Sadie Harris Bauman. She majored in theater at Columbia University, but left before graduating to study at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, Conn.
After her marriage, she continued working as a film editor and then a producer for television shows, including “Blind Date,” “What’s My Line,” and “Westinghouse Studio One,” a showcase for a large range of dramas, whether original teleplays or adaptations of notable plays or novels.
Her family said she left the entertainment business in the mid-1950s to spend more time with her family — and in revolt against the blacklisting of suspected Communists and sympathizers that began and continued through that period, and included some of her friends.
Upon moving to Rowayton, Conn. she kept up with the demands of her household and her growing family while opening the Five Mile River Gallery, devoted to artists such as Yves Tanguy, Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, and her father-in-law, Max Ernst. The exhibit space was likely the only suburban gallery showing important European Modernism during the Eisenhower era.
The family then moved to Sedona, Ariz., where she studied ceramics with Charles Loloma, who her family said was considered the first Hopi Modernist. Upon returning to the East Coast, she began showing her work at galleries in Florida, Connecticut, and New York. She developed a unique glazing technique that complemented the abstract forms she devised for her ceramic vessels. She continued her work and development into her 60s, traveling to New Mexico and living out of a Ford Minivan on the Acoma Reservation while she learned its masters’ techniques.
In 1969, Dallas and Jimmy Ernst settled in East Hampton as full-time residents, after years of spending part of the year here and being one of the earliest of the New York School of artists and poets to visit here in the 1940s. Their Lee Avenue Thanksgiving dinners became legend among that group, with the writers leaving short poems of thanks to mark the occasion on album covers and in books on the shelves, many of them found sometimes decades later, according to her son, Eric Max Ernst. One year, Benny Goodman played D.J. when his daughter, who lived in East Hampton, brought him as a guest.
Mr. Ernst said there was often a sense of competition among those who contributed main and side dishes and desserts. He also remembered one year when his father was in the hospital and the guests took over the preparations, the artists among them drawing images for a huge get-well card. “The community really came together. There was a sense of giving and selflessness that made it easier for Dallas, who usually micromanaged the whole thing.”
Ms. Ernst’s family remembered her as a “force of nature” and a source of perpetual motion as she moved from one project to the next, retaining a youthful vigor and appearance that belied her advanced age. At 72, she was even asked to show proof that she qualified for a retiree discount at a Parisian museum.
She is survived by her son, who lives in Sag Harbor, and her daughter, Amy Louise Ernst of Manhattan, a granddaughter, and her sister, Ruth Schnierer of Florida. A graveside service was held on June 5 at Green River Cemetery in Springs and a memorial will be held later this summer.
The family has suggested that donations be made in her memory to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach 11978, or the Retreat, 13 Goodfriend Drive, East Hampton 11937.