Clifford Ashley’s
“A Chart of the Whale Coast of New England” c. 1810

Mural Coming in DoorThe chart, or mural, is possibly the largest single work by the artist Clifford Ashley.  Clifford Ashley was born in New Bedford, MA in 1881 where he spent his youth on the waterfront amidst what remained of the once flourishing whaling industry.  After graduating from New Bedford High School, he attended the Eric Pape Art School in Boston.  A talented seascape artist, Ashley became well-known for his seascape paintings.  In 1904 he boarded the bark Sunbeam on a 6-week whaling trip to gain experience for an article he was writing.  Few people had the practical knowledge of whaling and professional artistic training as Ashley, and he used these assets to produce works of literature and illustration that were respected and appreciated by old sea dogs and historians alike.  He was also a renowned marine artist and produced hundreds of nautical oil paintings during his life.  None however, are known to be the size and scope of the “A Chart of The Whale Coast of New England, c. 1810”.  Ashley died at his home in Westport in 1947.

Measuring 6 by 16 feet, the mural details the south coast of New England from the Connecticut River to Cape Cod, including the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Clifford Ashley painted the mural in 1919 for his friend Gilbert Hinsdale and the work remained in the family home at 20 Water Street, Mattapoisett for 90 years.  The chart resided on the sloped ceiling of the office/sunroom which overlooked Mattapoisett Harbor.  The mural was to stay in that spot weathering four hurricanes; those of 1938 and 1944, Carol in 1954 and Bob in 1991.  In 1938, the hurricane completely knocked off the side of the building and gutted the sunroom, submerging it in 5 feet of water.  But the chart, mounted to the ceiling, was miraculously unharmed.  The mural has been given to the museum by Mrs. Polly Duff Phipps, great-grandniece of Gilbert Hinsdale, and a resident of our town. Restoration of the mural has been made possible by the gifts of many Mattapoisett residents and friends.

Following its restoration and hanging, the mural will be one of the centerpieces of the museum’s collection and will bring visitors from near and far to view this magnificent work of such a well-known local artist. Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Photos by Erik Gould

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About Clifford W. Ashley

Clifford W. Ashley c. 1940

Clifford W. Ashley c. 1940

Clifford Warren Ashley, a southcoast artist, illustrator and author, is known for his many paintings detailing the whaling industry and local landscapes. Ashley was born in New Bedford in 1881 and died in 1947 in Westport, Massachusetts. His early life was spent on the New Bedford waterfront among the last of the whalers that had in earlier years been part of the city’s world-wide whaling fleet. In 1904, Ashley shipped out aboard the bark Sunbeam to experience first hand life aboard a whaler. He witnessed the harpooning, “cutting-in” and “trying-out” of several sperm whales over a six week period. He was one of very few artists of his time to combine this practical knowledge with the professional training of an artist.

Ashley Book of KnotsFollowing his time aboard the Sunbeam, he wrote an article for Harper’s Monthly magazine entitled “The Blubber Hunters.” In 1926, this article became the
first two chapters in his book “The Yankee Whaler” which is considered one of the more definitive treatments of 19th century whaling. Perhaps he is best known as the author of the “Ashley Book of Knots” published shortly before his death in 1947. This volume contains descriptions and drawings of 3,854 knots and is accepted as the “bible” of knotting the world over.

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MHSM Clifford Ashley Mural View Book

A View Book of the Many Images Found in Clifford Ashley’s
“A Chart of the Whale Coast of New England” c. 1810

 

This and many other books, posters and gifts are for sale at the museum.