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The History Center in Tompkins County enjoys collaborating with Wharton Studio Museum (WSM), a local nonprofit dedicated to preserving and celebrating Ithaca’s moviemaking past, and to developing the original Wharton Studio building in Stewart Park — a bustling motion picture production center created by filmmaking brothers a Theodore and Leopold Wharton in the 19teens — into the Wharton Studio Museum and Park Center.
WSM has designed and produced two permanent installations for the Tompkins Center for History & Culture. A section of one of the exhibit towers and the opposing wall in the Exhibit Hall are dedicated to Ithaca’s role in early American filmmaking. And there is also an expansive “portrait gallery“ recognizing a number of the movie stars who worked for the Wharton brothers located on the walkway from the Atrium to the Cornell Local Research Library.
The movie industry was burgeoning in Ithaca at the same time as the aviation industry, and the connection between the two enterprises is made by THC’s display of the original Tommy Plane which, due to some unique structural characteristics, may have had a starring role in A Romance of the Air. Filmed in Ithaca in 1918, this adventure movie based on the life of WWI flying ace Lt. Bert Hall, was produced by Carle E. Carleton and shot by Wharton, Inc. Studio cinematographer John K. Holbrook, with production assistance from the Whartons.
Wharton Studio Museum’s mission to preserve and celebrate the role Ithaca and the region played in the history of American filmmaking drives the organization to broaden awareness — locally, regionally and nationally — of this unique history through programming of all kinds. Also central to our mission is WSM's plan to develop the Wharton Studio Museum and Park Center in the historic Wharton Studio building in Stewart Park, one of a handful of silent film studios still standing in the country.
In 2009, Ithaca Motion Picture Project (as the organization was then called) incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit. Four years later, wanting to include the word "museum" in its name, IMPP applied for and was granted a Provisional Museum Charter from the NYC Education Department’s Board of Regents and officially became Wharton Studio Museum (WSM). Annually WSM produces Silent Movie Under the Stars; Silent Movie Month; a film festival for youth called Silents Roar! and collaborates on screenings, exhibits, presentations, workshops and educational outreach with Cornell Cinema, The History Center, Ithaca College’s Park School, Cornell Costume and textile Collections,Tompkins County Public Library, Cinemapolis and a host of other cultural and educational entities.. The Provisional Museum Charter will be renewed in this year -- 2018.
Wharton Studio Museum is a founding partner of the Tompkins Center for History and Culture (TCHC), which opened in May 2019 on the Ithaca Commons in the historic Tompkins Trust Co. Building. The opening of the TCHC marks the first time that WSM has its own dedicated exhibit space.
Additionally, WSM is working to develop the Wharton Studio building and has just completed Re-envisioning the Wharton Studio Building: Transforming an Ithaca Landmark, a planning and design study that proposes an exciting vision to develop the historic building, scenically located by the shores of Cayuga Lake, into the Wharton Studio Museum and Park Center. Renovations and improvements to the building’s exterior, the creation of galleries with exhibits on film history and park history in its north-facing interior and a landscaped seating and gathering area by the lake and Cayuga Waterfront Trail will transform the building and surrounding landscape into the park’s cultural and recreational hub. The Wharton Studio Museum and Park Center — a centerpiece of the park’s original “historic core” -- will enhance and improve the park for the benefit of the community and also help promote heritage tourism in the region.