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Artist `Erni’ Cabat dies in his sleep


He co-founded Tucson’s first advertising agency and TV pioneer here.

Artist, teacher and former advertising executive Ernest “Erni’ Cabat died in his sleep of heart failure at his home Wednesday night. He was 80.

He lived in Tucson for more than 50 years and for the past three decades was a noted artist with his own studio gallery. The gallery featured both his and his wife’s artworks.

Mr. Cabat also co-founded the first local advertising agency, and was an early pioneer in Tucson’s television industry.

A well-known, flamboyant personality around town, he was easily identified by his large mustache and the eclectic variety of international hats he wore.

“He lived a full and rich life, basically trouble- and crisis-free, very productive and always with a twinkle in his eye,’ said his daughter June Cabat of Bisbee.

His wife, ceramist Rose Cabat, described Mr. Cabat as “a very romantic and attentive husband who took care of his wife every step of the way.’

They celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary on Oct. 17.

Mr. Cabat was born in New York City in 1914.

He received his art education at the Art Students League, Mechanics (Art) Institute and Cooper Union Institute, from which he graduated in the early 1930s.

In 1936 he began working for advertising agencies and, later, Time-Life. There, he was under contract to the U.S. Air Force in a wartime program. His job was to render targets for bombardiers over Japan.

In 1942, Mr. Cabat took a job with Consolidated Vultee as a blueprint translator. He worked there until the end of World War II.

He and his wife moved to Tucson in 1943. In 1945, Mr. Cabat, along with Norvel Gill, started Cabat-Gill Advertising, the first local agency.

“Erni’s contribution to Tucson extended far beyond the art community,’ said Judith Williams, owner of Tucson’s Rosequist Galleries.

“He was a unique personality in the commercial business world. He was very creative and helped so many local groups and businesses get their identities out into the world.’

His daughter, June Cabat, said her father helped promote the fledgling advertising industry in Tucson, and produced game shows and commercials in the early days of television here.

Mr. Cabat also taught creativity at the University of Arizona’s marketing department during those years.

He left the advertising business in the mid-sixties to devote his full time to painting and working with his wife in ceramics.

Soon after, they were both trained and sent to underdeveloped countries by the U.S. Information Agency. They taught other artists how to commercialize their works.

During his art career, Mr. Cabat made slab ceramic sculpture and later, acrylic paintings. But in the last 20 years he primarily produced gouache (opaque water color) paintings of a variety of subjects ranging from Las Vegas night life to scenes from the 27 countries he visited.

He also illustrated and wrote seven children’s books, and six books on flowers of the Southwest.

His works were known for their whimsy, intricacy, vivid color and social commentary. “You can’t look at an Erni Cabat painting without smiling,’ said his daughter-in-law, Susan Bettis.

“He was a forerunner of creativity in art prints and did a tremendous amount of that all over the country,’ said Williams. “There was a special quality of humor and concern that came out through his art. There was also a depth to his art, and if no one else liked it, that was just too bad.’

Mr. Cabat was “abundantly creative, full of flair and style,’ said June Cabat. “He couldn’t stop the ideas until he died. We’re all very proud of our father.’

In addition to June and Rose Cabat, Mr. Cabat is survived by his sons George Cabat of La Porte, Texas, and Michael Cabat of Indianapolis, Ind., two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

There will be a memorial service for Mr. Cabat at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Fraternal Order of Eagles, 1530 N. Stone Ave. The family asked that memorial donations be made to the Tucson Museum of Art or KUAT-TV.

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