When MWPAI began actively collecting Victorian-era decorative arts in the 1950s, the staff was ahead of the curve. Consequently, the Museum has perhaps the best public American furniture collection (with strength from the 1830s through 1880s) outside of museums in large, urban centers. The collection is known for its high number of labeled and documented examples by the best New York City and Philadelphia cabinetmakers, as well as labeled pieces by large firms that catered to the middle class.
The furniture collection includes works by cabinetmakers John Henry Belter, Charles Baudouine, Anthony Quervelle, E. W. Hutchings, J. and J. W. Meeks, Leon Marcotte, Herter Brothers, Louis C. Tiffany, Daniel Pabst, Kimbel and Cabus, and Charles Rohlfs. Parallel to the furniture collection are the glass, silver, and mixed metal holdings. A silver-plated table exhibited by Tiffany & Co. at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition is featured in the silver collection, along with other pieces by Tiffany, Gorham Manufacturing Co., George Shiebler, and Lincoln & Foss. The ceramic collection is highlighted by the largest public holding of Oneida County stoneware, made from the 1830s through the early 20th-century.
The Museum's decorative arts also encompass the Proctor Collection. These are works gathered by the Institute's founding families. The spectrum of objects ranges from Tiffany glass and Chinese and Japanese ceramics to Victorian-era collections of thimbles, fans, and souvenir spoons. A focal point of the Proctor Collection is 300 decorative European timepieces that range in date from circa 1575 through the early 20th century and were gathered by Frederick and Thomas Proctor.
Decorative arts are on view in the paintings galleries as well as in period room settings and galleries in Fountain Elms, an 1850 historic Italianate mansion and the former home of the Institute's founders. Fountain Elms includes four superbly outfitted mid 19th-century period room settings, including a parlor, library, bedroom, and dining room, which exhibit the decorative arts within a greater context.