Clifford Warren Ashley

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A Whaleship on the Marine Railway at Fairhaven (ca. 1916)

Clifford Warren Ashley (December 18, 1881 – September 18, 1947) was an American artist, author, sailor, and knot expert. He was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, son of Abiel Davis Ashley and Caroline Morse. Ashley married Sarah Scudder Clark in 1932, with whom he had two daughters, one of whom is practicing painter Jane Ashley. He also adopted his wife's daughter from a previous marriage.[1][2] He died in Westport Point, Massachusetts.[3]

Education and early workEdit

Taking an interest in art while still in high school, he went on to attend the Eric Pape Art School in Boston. In the summer of 1901 Ashley, along with friends N.C. Wyeth and Henry J. Peck, studied under George Noyes in Annisquam, Massachusetts.[1] In the fall, he went on to become a student of Howard Pyle's school in Wilmington, Delaware.[3][4] Pyle helped secure commissions for his students, and Ashley's early work included book frontispieces and illustrations for magazines such as The Delineator, Leslies, McClure's, and Success.[1]

Ashley had both a knowledge of and interest in sperm whaling due to his upbringing in New Bedford. In 1904 he was commissioned by Harper's Monthly Magazine to write and illustrate a two-part article on whaling. This project necessitated him becoming even more familiar with the topic. To this end he set sail aboard the bark Sunbeam for six weeks, beginning in August of that year. During the voyage he witnessed the hunt and killing of three whales. Upon publication, the master of the Sunbeam praised the articles, stating, "I think it is the best whale story I ever read ... The illustrations are so true to life that even the Old Barnacles here cannot find fault with them."[1]


Ashley Book of Knots

Ashley is perhaps most famous for The Ashley Book of Knots (1944), an encyclopedic reference manual with directions for and illustrations of thousands of knots.[1] He was the first author to publish several knots, including what are now called Ashley's stopper knot and Ashley's bend.

However Ashley's initial foray as a knot author occurred with the 1925 publication of a series of articles in a Street & Smith pulp called Sea Stories Magazine. While far less expansive than his later magnum opus, the articles have stylistic elements that Ashley would use again. This includes symbols adjacent to some illustrations to indicate the characteristics or shortcomings of particular knots. In 1935 Cyrus Day, a knot author and correspondent of Ashley's, cited the series of six articles in his own work as, "...the best discussion of knots available in English, but out of print, and difficult to obtain."[5] The Sea Stories articles were collected, reset and published by the International Guild of Knot Tyers as The Sailor and His Knots in 2012.[6]

Ashley also wrote The Yankee Whaler (1926) and The Whaleships of New Bedford (1929), studies of sperm whaling in New England in the late 18th century and early 19th century.[3][4]


Mount Ashley, standing south of the Bay of Isles on South Georgia Island, is named after Ashley.


  1. ^ a b c d e Hall, Elton W. (1999). "Clifford Warren Ashley". In Garraty, John A.; Carnes, Mark C. (eds.). American National Biography. 1. Oxford University Press. pp. 679–680. ISBN 0-19-512780-3.
  2. ^ "Ashley, Clifford Warren (1881-1947)". Schoonover Studios Ltd. Retrieved 2010-12-07.
  3. ^ a b c "Clifford Ashley, Artist, Author, 65". The New York Times. 1947-09-20. p. 15. His age was 65. Mr. Ashley was known for his paintings of whaling subjects and three books, "The Yankee Whaler," "Whaleships of New Bedford" and "The Ashley ...
  4. ^ a b Giambarba, Paul (2007). "Clifford Ashley's drawings: 1905–1911". 100 Years of Illustration and Design. Archived from the original on 2008-12-03. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  5. ^ Cyrus Lawrence Day (1935), Sailors' Knots, New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., pp. 152–153
  6. ^ Clifford W. Ashley (2012) [1925], The Sailor and His Knots (reprint ed.), Needham Market, UK: International Guild of Knot Tyers, pp. 1–5 (Front matter), ISBN 0-9515506-8-3

External linksEdit