Clifford W. Ashley
Clifford Warren Ashley was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts on December 18, 1881 and died in Westport Point, Massachusetts on September 18, 1947. Although best known as a knot expert he was also a talented artist, author, and sailor. Ashley’s interest in art developed while still in high school. After school he attended the Eric Pape Art School in Boston and in the summer of 1901 he studied under George Noyes in Annisquam, Massachusetts. That fall he went on to become a student of Howard Pyle’s school in Wilmington, Delaware where Pyle helped secure commissions for Ashley including book frontispieces and illustrations for magazines such as The Delineator, Leslies, McClure’s, and Success.
From his upbringing in New Bedford Ashley was familiar with sperm whaling and in 1904 Harper’s Monthly Magazine commissioned him to write a two-part article on whaling with illustrations. To enhance his familiarity he set sail aboard the bark Sunbeam for six weeks and witnessed the hunt and killing of three whales. The master of the Sunbeam praised his articles as the best he had ever read: “The illustrations are so true to life that even the Old Barnacles here cannot find fault with them.” Today Ashley’s Art still appears at auctions and commands significant prices.
Daughter Jane Ashley
Clifford married Sarah Scudder Clark in 1932. They had two daughters and, in addition, he also adopted his wife’s daughter from a previous marriage. Their daughter Jane Ashley was also a successful painter.
The Ashley Book of Knots (ABOK)
Ashley is undoubtedly most famous for his stunning 1944 compilation The Ashley Book of Knots (Doubleday New York) a reference manual of thousands of knots with excellent diagrams. He also originated several knots, e.g., two that are now known as the Ashley Bend and the Ashley Stopper Knot. No comparable book has been published since and it remains the authoritative source today. For example, a reference to ABOK #526, uniquely relates to his “Oysterman’s Stopper Knot”. Despite changes and inventiveness in the last sixty years, few knots have appeared that were not described by Ashley. In view of this, where possible, his reference system is used on this website.
Ashley first wrote about knots in 1925 in articles in Sea Stories Magazine. Less comprehensive than his later book, he introduced the style that he would use again including icons to indicate the characteristics or shortcomings of particular knots.
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.