If you travel south from Fort Drum for about an hour and a half, you will arrive at one of the many hidden treasures within driving distance of post. This treasure is Utica, a former industrial city known for its local music scene and brewery.

Utica also is home to the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute. The MWPAI houses hundreds of works of art, most of which are early American.

Founded in 1919, the MWPAI is the result of prominent and philanthropic families dreaming of a community cultural organization. Of the many items displayed at the institute are collections of the museum's benefactors. Antique watches, decks of playing cards and a doll house are just a few of the collectables on display.

"The museum is named after three generations of the founding family - the Munsons, Williams and Proctors - who came to Utica in the mid 19th century," said Anna D'Ambrosio, assistant director and curator of decorative arts for the museum of art.

One of the most prominent works of art housed at the institute is the first of two original sets of Thomas Cole's paintings titled "The Voyage of Life," depicting a man in a boat at different stages of life. MWPAI also has touring exhibits; the next exhibit to visit is called "Artists of Central New York," which showcases the work of local artists.

"The strength of our collection is 19th century through modern contemporary American art," said D'Ambrosio.

Attached to the museum is Fountain Elms, an early 1900s house preserved as an exhibit. Inside is a large collection of furniture owned by the Munson, Williams and Proctor families that has been donated to the institute.

The gallery holds an auditorium to support its active performing arts program. Any act too big for the auditorium is held at the Stanley Theatre, which is also part of the institute.

"One of the great things about the museum of art at Munson Williams Proctor is that we are free and open to the public," D'Ambrosio said.

The MWPAI offers several programs for the local community. PrattMWP is a program that allows students to study at the institute for two years before completing their bachelor's degree at the Pratt Institute's main campus. The Pratt Institute is an art and design school in Brooklyn.

"We have a school of art that comes in two parts; we have PrattMWP, which is our program in conjunction with Pratt down in New York," D'Ambrosio said. "We have a full campus where students go for their freshman and sophomore years, and after they finish up, they go to Brooklyn for their junior and senior years.

"Then we have a continuing education program that offers everything from Saturday morning ballet or art classes for children to a whole host of art classes for adults."

To get to MWPAI, take State Route 26 south, State Route 26 becomes State Route 12, merge on to NY 5S and turn right onto Genesee Street; MPWAI is on the right side. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information about MWPAI, you can visit their web site at www.mwpai.org.