SILENTS: Novels in Pictures

June through August 2022
Wimberly Library Main Lobby (1st Floor)
and Jaffe Center for Book Arts Lobby (3rd Floor East)

A core concept at FAU Libraries' Jaffe Center for Book Arts is that there is more than one way to define "book." There is also more than one way to tell a story. What if we told a story without words? Could we tell a story solely through a sequence of images?

Early filmmakers discovered they could. The concept of motion pictures was perfected in the late 19th century and by 1910, we were entering the height of the silent film era. Within a few years, the Keystone Cops would be regular features on the screen, and actors like Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, and Charlie Chaplin were making names for themselves in this brand-new industry. In the same period arises another silent picture show, of sorts: novels in pictures, novels in woodcuts... the wordless novel.

This exhibition focuses on the works of Belgian artist Frans Masereel, whose 1918 book 25 Images of a Man's Passion launched a movement that was soon followed by German artist Otto Nuckel and others. In the United States, Lynd Ward was making wordless books by 1929. These were tumultuous years: an era of labor unrest, economic turmoil, and war. These early decades of the 20th century saw the rise of Socialism, the Great War (as World War I was then known), the collapse of the stock market that ushered in the Great Depression and years of hardship, and the ascent to power of Fascist dictators in Europe. These issues found their way into the wordless novels of the day.

Silent films were there through all of this. The silents early on were pure entertainment. But as film developed, so did the art of filmmaking. Chaplin, for instance, grew tired of the slapstick that began his career. Though it never really went away, complex story lines were developing alongside the laughs. By 1935, with Modern Times, his last silent film, Charlie Chaplin was taking on the same complex issues––labor unrest, the rise of Socialism, economic turmoil––as a Lynd Ward novel in pictures.

These novels in pictures are some of the earliest books that Arthur Jaffe collected for their aesthetic qualities. We've paired them with works by contemporary book artists and graphic novelists who are indebted to the artists who made the wordless novels of the early 20th century. Arthur liked to say that his wife Mata "brought color and light to the collection," an influence that is evident to anyone who visits our unique library. But peel the layers back to the core and you come to the novel in pictures, in stark black and white, like every silent film of the same era. They all share the same artistic challenge: tell a tale without the use of words.


We've created a theater in miniature at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts Lobby with a selection of silent films on continuous loop. The films will change each month of the exhibition. For the month of June, come have a seat and enjoy WINGS (1927) –– the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture –– starring Clara Bow (the original "It Girl") with Buddy Rodgers and Richard Arlen; METROPOLIS (1927), directed by Fritz Lang, and one of Charlie Chaplin's masterpieces: THE GOLD RUSH (1925), which was the second of his feature length films. Two short films are also in the mix: HARLEQUIN, a papercut animation by Lotte Reiniger (1931), and a contemporary piece by film maker Monika Weiss, called KATAIGÍS (2021). The films are running around the clock and may be viewed anytime during regular library hours.


This exhibition runs in the public areas of the Wimberly Library (not inside the Jaffe Center for Book Arts) and may be viewed any time during regular library hours. Summer semester hours are as follows: Monday to Thursday 7:40 AM to Midnight, Friday 7:40 AM to 6 PM, Saturday 10:30 AM to 6 PM, and Sunday Noon to Midnight. Closed Independence Day. View hours each day at the library's home page:


The Jaffe Center for Book Arts is located on the third floor east of Florida Atlantic University's Wimberly Library. From I-95 or the Florida Turnpike, exit Glades Road, east. The FAU campus is located just east of I-95. If you enter the campus at FAU's main entrance (the one furthest west on Glades Road... and the first one you get to approaching from I-95 or the turnpike), you will enter on West University Drive. Continue straight on West University Drive to the traffic light at its intersection with Volusia Street. Turn right onto Volusia Street. You will see a parking garage on Volusia Street, and the Wimberly Library is the next building east of the parking garage.

The I-95 interchange for Florida Atlantic University (Exit 48A) takes you directly from the interstate to FAU. Once you pass the traffic light at Spanish River Boulevard, you are on the FAU campus on FAU Boulevard. Continue to the traffic signal at the intersection of FAU Boulevard and University Drive (FAU Stadium will be on your right). Turn right onto University Drive. Turn left at the traffic signal at Volusia Street. You will see a parking garage on Volusia Street, and the Wimberly Library is the next building east of the parking garage.

Visitor Parking is available at the metered spaces in the library parking lot; look for the spaces that have numbers posted on signs at the head of the parking space. The meter system accepts payment with cash or credit card at the rate of $2 per hour.