Silent Film and the Keyboard Art Pioneers

Fans of silent film were just as devoted to their favorite stars as we are today. In fact, a couple of fans from the era took their devotion to a new level, pioneering a kind of art that wouldn’t gain true popularity until the 1970s.

Keyboard art (commonly known today as ASCII art) dates back to the days of the typewriter. The earliest known example of keyboard art dates from 1898 and depicts a butterfly. The fans of silent film took this concept to a new level in the 1910s and 1920s, and began creating portraits of film stars, later submitting them to fan magazines to share.

Arthur Paul Jr. submitted this keyboard art portrait of Douglas Fairbanks to Motion Picture Magazine shortly after Doug and Mary Pickford were married. Not too shabby, right?

Photoplay took note of editorial office boy Kenneth Taylor’s keyboard art skills and devoted an entire page to him and his creations. Among his portrait subjects were Dorothy Gish…

William S. Hart…

and Charlie Chaplin.

Impressive, no?

Get acquainted with Doug, Dorothy, William and Charlie in previous installments of our silent film series. Or dive deeper and check out our silent film-themed Pinterest board.

Want to dive deeper into the world of silent film? Keep up with my posts over on Curtains or on Chicago Nitrate.