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Reflection on the life of Ellen Eisendrath Post: Taking one's pleasures seriously

Ellen Eisendrath Post
Provided by the family

In the sunny room in which Ellen Eisendrath Post spent her last days, the room in which she died at 79 years of age on Friday, she was surrounded not only by the warmth and stimulation of people she loved but by an abundance of objects, new and old, and flowers and books — things that mattered to her and things she loved as well.

An austere African mask hung above her bed and across the way, on another wall, in contrast, were Japanese prints of vivid color and vitality. A soft cotton quilt, constructed of blocks of a soothing variegation, covered her bed, and nearby, books and books and books. To the left of her bed, bright and cheerful flowers picked from a Missouri summer smiled at a visitor: black-eyed Susans, phlox, sprigs of lavender and a couple of zinnias, delivered by a friend blessed with instincts that produce marvelous food and flowers of perfection. The flowers were arranged by the gentle hand of her daughter, who, inspired, put them in a Mason jar, a vessel of perfection.

All this, family, possessions, happy memories shaken by the bittersweet and the inevitable, testify to Mrs. Post’s sturdy conscious and generative spirit and their challenges to the ordinary and the pretentious. Together these artifacts of a life made manifest her deep and insatiable love of learning and her extraordinary and unfussy taste. They also represented the harvest of a sophisticated eye and a thrifty acquisitiveness, a sensitivity to the earth and its bounties along with a mature innocence that allowed for taking joy in the beauty of an orderly jumble of things: wildflowers; the elegance and the implications of a ritual object from Africa; the discipline involved of assembling a quilt of visual balance and utilitarian goodness; and the endless resources of books. All of this was anointed with attention provided by those she loved who were in attendance during her last week.

Those she loved were not a few. She bore three children in her first marriage to Theodore Steinert of Paris; and after their divorce, she left France and returned to St. Louis. In time, she blended her brood with that of her second husband, the late Stephen A. Post, a distinguished St. Louis psychoanalyst and father of four. He died in 2011. Her marriage to Dr. Post was a love match if ever there was one; Mrs. Post said her only regret about it was that she hadn’t met him sooner.

The polymathic architect-designer-filmmaker and former St. Louisan Charles Eames once said, “Take your pleasure seriously,” and it was as if he were describing Mrs. Post’s approach to her life. She was in many respects intrepid and unflappable. In recent years she spent time in India where pleasures were taken seriously and with wonder. Many years ago, when such a journey was difficult, she traveled to Afghanistan. It was obvious she didn’t permit the grass to grow beneath her feet, and experiences abroad and in visits to her far flung family or even an afternoon spent at the movies fed a hunger for beauty and complexity.

Beauty and complexity, in fact, are defining elements of her background. Her mother, Erna Rice Eisendrath, was member of a distinguished St. Louis family. In the early 20th century her father, Charles Rice, was a founder of the Lewis Rice law firm, which continues to bear his name, and her family was closely related to David May, founder of the May Department Stores Co., and its beloved Famous-Barr. Mrs. Eisendrath was a botanist and was a professor at Washington University. She wrote a book called “Missouri Wildflowers of the St. Louis Area.”

Mrs. Post's father was William N. Eisendrath, originally of Chicago. He started out working in his family’s leather tanning business, which he loathed, and was drawn to art, which he loved, and that is where he made his career and his mark. He served as assistant to the director and as assistant director of the St. Louis Art Museum (then the City Art Museum), and eventually became curator, then director, of the Washington University Gallery of Art. He was an informed, enthusiastic and perspicacious collector, teacher and administrator. An exhibition last winter at the university’s Kemper Museum, called “From Picasso to Fontana — Collecting Modern and Postwar Art in the Eisendrath Years, 1960-1968” celebrated his accomplishments.

Mrs. Post was born in Chicago in 1936, grew up in suburban Glencoe and moved with her parents and siblings to St. Louis when she was 16. She graduated from Horton Watkins High School, now Ladue High, and spent her college years at Barnard College in New York. She has lived in St. Louis since she returned here from Europe.

As a St. Louisan, she was active in the life of the community and was a generous volunteer. She taught English to new arrivals in St. Louis at the International Institute and volunteered at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Mrs. Post and her husband, Stephen, served together on the board of Laumeier Sculpture Park. At one time she taught French to children at the New City School.

Working together with her friend, the educator Susan Uchitelle, they looked for a building for education in the arts. One of those buildings was the old Carter Carburetor Building, at 711 North Grand Blvd. The Grand Center Arts Academy has been installed in it, and the location, in the midst of a thriving arts scene, seems perfect.

“Ellen understood that if you are engaged in the arts,” Uchitelle said, “you have laid a foundation for learning.”

Mrs. Post's survivors include a daughter, Sylvia Steinert (Todd Brewster), of Ridgefield, Conn.; two sons, Eric Steinert (Heidi), of Belmont, Mass.; and William Steinert (Birgit) of Berlin, Germany; and six grandchildren. She is also survived by a sister, Ann Chafee of Denver, and a brother, Charles Eisendrath, of Ann Arbor, Mich.; and by four stepchildren: Louise Post of Los Angeles; Nancy Hunter of San Francisco; Eric Post of St. Louis; and Kenneth Post of Chicago.

A memorial service will be Friday, July 24, at 2 p.m. in Graham Chapel at Washington University. A reception will follow. The family asks instead of flowers, donations be made to the Ellen Eisendrath Post Charitable Fund, in care of the Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation , 319 N. 4th Street, Suite 300, St. Louis, Mo. 63102-1906.

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