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An Egyptian tent that was used at the Adirondack League Club in the early 20th century. Photo: Andy Flynn
An Egyptian tent that was used at the Adirondack League Club in the early 20th century. Photo: Andy Flynn

Adirondack Attic: Dr. Warner's Egyptian tent

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In the Adirondack Attic series with Andy Flynn, NCPR is collaborating with Andy and his sources at the Adirondack Museum and other historical associations and museums in the region to bring local history stories to air.

Flynn recently visited the Adirondack Museum and spoke with Chief Curator Laura Rice about an Egyptian tent that was used at the Adirondack League Club in the early 20th century.

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Reported by

Andy Flynn
Adirondack Correspondent

We sent an email out to everybody, "Come to the gallery. Take a look at this."
“This is one of my newly favorite artifacts in the collection,” Rice said.

The tent was made in Cairo, Egypt for Dr. Lucien Calvin Warner, the man who co-founded the Warner Brothers Corset Company in 1874. Now known as Warner’s, the company continues to manufacture lingerie and brassieres.

The large canvas tent features many cotton applique panels.

“They’re brightly colored with a lot of blues, reds, yellows, just absolutely gorgeous,” Rice said. “It’s a circular tent. It would almost look like a circus tent from the outside when it’s set up on a platform.”

The tent was used as sleeping quarters at Warner’s camp at the Adirondack League Club, which is located southeast of Old Forge, and it comes from a long tradition of tent making in the Middle East.

“Lucien would have been traveling abroad, doing the grand tour as a lot of wealthy Americans and Europeans did,” Rice said. “Something like this would have appe aled to him because it is very exotic, and it’s not something you would find normally in New York City or certainly in the Adirondacks.”

Having the Egyptian tent was a way of bringing in the exotic flair to Warner’s camp. It was made by hand, probably by a small company in Cairo that would have employed several applique sewers. The circular top is heavily decorated on the inside, and the panels are reinforced with wooden slats and decorated with Egyptian figures, hieroglyphics and animals.

“It looks very much like an Egyptian temple or even a tomb,” Rice said.

The applique is all sewn by hand.

“It’s kind of interesting,” Rice said, “as you look at each one of these panels, some of the motifs will repeat, but you can see little differences in sizes and some of the coloring, so you get the feeling that there were different sewers working on each of these panels.”

The panels were most likely not manufactured to tell stories. They were decorative and made to appeal to the tourist market.

“It was used as sleeping quarters,” Rice said. “If you think about being in that tent after dark, having a candle or a lantern with the light flickering over these images and colors, it really must have been spectacular to see.”

Why bring an Egyptian tent to the Adirondacks?

“Toward the end of the 19th century and the turn of the 20th century, there was a real interest in the exotic,” Rice said. “We call it exoticism now.”

In this movement, wealthy visitors decorated their Great Camps with items from around the world, including Native American baskets, Balinese statues and Japanese suits of armor.

“It was a place where you could indulge in whimsy and fun, and there were no real conventions in terms of decorating,” Rice said. “You sort of let your imagination run wild. And I think it was just a chance to have something that nobody else had. It was a fun thing to do and a fun place to sleep.”

The tent, dating from 1906 to 1908, became Rice’s new favorite artifact at the Adirondack Museum when it was taken out of storage this past winter. She had never seen it before, and it was a pleasant surprise because it was so different.

Another section of the tent. Photo: Andy Flynn
Another section of the tent. Photo: Andy Flynn
“The great thing about doing my job is that every time we are working on a project or a new exhibit, I get to see something I’ve never seen before,” Rice said. “This tent had been a big, plastic-wrapped lump downstairs that I never had reason to pull out. When we pulled it out, everybody got excited. We had all the staff coming in to see it. We sent an email out to everybody, ‘Come to the gallery. Take a look at this.’ It’s just a really fun artifact.”

The Egyptian tent is on display this summer as part of the Adirondack Museum’s “Gone Camping” exhibit, which explores how camping technology has changed over the years.

“How the materials have changed,” Rice said. “How it’s easier in a lot of ways to get in and out of the woods because you can put a lot more in your pack without weighing yourself down the way you would have in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Warner placed the tent on his property at the Adirondack League Club merely as an alternate sleeping experience. If he got hungry or if there was a big storm, he could still retreat to his main camp.

“You weren’t too far from anything,” Rice said.

This program is supported by Hungry Bear Publishing, home of the Adirondack Attic book series.

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