Clifford Ashley’s Whaling Illustrations

Clifford Warren Ashley (1881-1947) was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He gravitated toward an art career at an early age and eventually studied under Brandywine artist Howard Pyle and later enjoyed a successful career as an illustrator for popular magazines.

His upbringing in New Bedford and his interest in sperm whaling earned him an important commission early in his new profession. In 1904 he joined a six-week whaling voyage aboard the ship Sunbeam. He was on assignment for Harper’s Monthly and his account, along with his pictures, would be published in 1906 as a two-part article entitled “The Blubber Hunters”.

He took along a camera as well as his sketchbooks to chronicle life aboard ship. At this time the industry was in steep decline. His subsequent work remains an authentic and true visual record of labor aboard the whaling vessels of the period.

Ashley also authored and illustrated several books on the subject including The Yankee Whaler (1926) and The Whaleships of New Bedford (1929). But he remains best known for The Ashley Book of Knots (1944), a comprehensive guide to the sailor’s craft of knot-tying.

 

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