June 13, 2017

Thou Shalt Knot Exhibition to Celebrate Clifford W. Ashley

And the ubiquitous, sculptural, and mathematically elegant world of knots
Opening July 7, 2017


New Bedford, Mass. – Explore the work of master knot tyer, maritime artist, historian, and author Clifford W. Ashley in a monumental exhibition opening at the New Bedford Whaling Museum on July 7, 2017 from 6 pm to 8 pm. Thou Shalt Knot: Clifford W. Ashley will premiere a recent gift of Ashley’s private knot collection enhanced by interpretative material from the Museum’s permanent collection, as well as the artist’s paintings, prints, and works by other knot tyers and artists. This event is free and open to the public, but RSVP is encouraged by going to www.whalingmuseum.org or calling 508-997-0046. The exhibition is sponsored by the Family of Clifford W. Ashley and made possible, in part, by support from the International Guild of Knot Tyers, the Boston Marine Society, Margaret Baker Howland, and Mary Howland Smoyer.

Knots are ubiquitous, sculptural, and mathematically elegant. They are both ancient and modern, and are the subject of cutting edge research and ongoing practice in the fields of mathematics, physics, life sciences, materials engineering, and art, not to mention within a wide range of industries and recreational pastimes. Thou Shalt Knot takes on many of these themes.

Ashley’s daughters, Phoebe Chardon and Jane Ashley, donated their father’s collection of knots to the Whaling Museum in 2016. A focal point of the new exhibition, the collection includes many of the knots Ashley used as models for the almost 7,000 illustrations in his encyclopedic magnum opus, The Ashley Book of Knots, which has been in continuous print since 1944.

Marc Chardon, grandson of Clifford Ashley said, “We, the family of ‘Grandfather Ashley,’ hope that you’ll come to know him through the upcoming Whaling Museum exhibit. That you’ll be transported back to a time when entertainment was something people created, rather than watched. Back to a world which felt huge and mysterious. And to a place where knots were used each and every day by people in all professions and walks of life. We hope you’ll come and visit and that you’ll walk away happier for having shared in and explored the life and works of Clifford Ashley.”

Complementing the Ashley Collection in the exhibition is a broad range of objects and rare books drawn from the Whaling Museum’s permanent collection, partner institutions, and private collections that help to place Ashley’s work within a larger cultural, social, industrial, artistic, and utilitarian context. In addition, videos of knot tying, rope making, and interactives on the mathematics of knots will be on view. Rope making machines and other tools will be on hand for visitors to explore. The exhibition will also include modern works in various media that speak to a contemporary understanding and meaning of knots, including macro views of rope in large graphite works on paper by Huguette Despault May and ceramic sculptures of rope and sailcloth by Julia Mandle. A full color, 83 page catalog accompanies the exhibition.

The exhibition takes a comprehensive look at Ashley’s varied career. One of New Bedford’s most interesting and influential citizens, Ashley was also an accomplished artist who studied under Howard Pyle, one of America’s greatest illustrators, at what came to be known as the Brandywine School. A life-changing post as an illustrator for Harper’s Monthly Magazine aboard the whaleship Sunbeam for a piece on whaling informed much of his later work and publications.

While Ashley continued to illustrate books and journals for many years, his passion for painting moved him almost exclusively to canvas after 1913, when his focus turned to his beloved New Bedford waterfront and local landscapes around South Dartmouth.

An accomplished author, Ashley published one of his most important books, The Yankee Whaler, on the whaling industry in 1926. Next came the elegantly illustrated Whaleships of New Bedford in 1929 with a foreword by Franklin Delano Roosevelt; and his pivotal Ashley Book of Knots in 1944.

For high-resolution images contact:
Tina Malott
Director of Marketing and Public Relations
New Bedford Whaling Museum

Decorative Knot Demonstration Piece, early 20th century. New Bedford Whaling Museum Collection. Gift of Captain William Lawton Hawes.

Huguette Despault May, The Core. Charcoal on paper, 50” X 38”, 2009. The Core is part of The Hawser Series, which May began in 2006 with the chance discovery of an abandoned ship’s hawser (a rope used in mooring or towing a ship) during a trip to New Bedford, Massachusetts.


Pair of seaman’s chest beckets. Twine, marline, leather, shellac, late 19th century. New Bedford Whaling Museum Collection.


Clifford W. Ashley, The Ashley Book of Knots. Doubleday, Doran, & Company, Inc.: Garden City, New York, 1944. Page 254. “There are still old knots that are unrecorded, and so long as there are new purposes for rope, there will always be new knots to discover.” - Clifford W. Ashley

About the New Bedford Whaling Museum

The New Bedford Whaling Museum is the world’s most comprehensive museum devoted to the
global story of human interaction with whales through time, and the history and culture of the
South Coast region. The cornerstone of New Bedford Whaling Museum National Historical
Park, the Museum is located at 18 Johnny Cake Hill in the heart of the city’s historic downtown.
Museum hours April through December: Daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Museum is open until
8 p.m. every second Thursday of the month. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New
Year’s Day. Admission is: Free for Museum members and children aged three and under; adults
$16, seniors (65+) $14, students (19+) $9, child and youth $6. For more information, visit www.whalingmuseum.org.