Clifford W. Ashley

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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 and had two daughters, one of whom is practicing painter Jane Ashley, also adopting his wife’s oldest daughter from a previous marriage. He died in Westport Point, Massachusetts.

Education and Early Work

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. In the fall, he went on to become a student of Howard Pyle’s school inWilmington, Delaware. 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.
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.”


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. 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 “The Sailor and His Knots”, serialized 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.”
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
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Author’s Books

Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford W. Ashley
Sailor and His Knots by Clifford W. Ashley
Whaleships of New Bedford by Clifford W. Ashley
Yankee Whaler by Clifford W. Ashley

Contact Information


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Author’s webpage at

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