Clifford Warren Ashley died 18 September 1947 in the picturesque seaside town of Westport, Massachusetts not far from where he was born on 18 December 1881 in the equally picturesque old whaling port of New Bedford. He, of all the illustrators who painted wooden ships and iron men, really knew his subjects well from having lived with them all of his life. I think it’s what sets him apart from the others who painted ships and the men who sailed and worked them. Whether his illustrations have been derived from photos or sketched from life, it’s Ashley’s conviction and confidence that gives his work its power and credulity.
These illustrations are from "The Blubber Hunters," written and illustrated by Clifford Ashley and published in Harper's Monthly Magazine for March 1906. Two years earlier, in August 1904, he had shipped aboard the whaling bark Sunbeam to hunt sperm whales on the west coast of Africa.
He studied at the Eric Pape School in Boston along with N.C. Wyeth, Sidney Chase, and Ashley’s cousin Henry Peck; with them at Annisquam, near Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1901; and with Converse Wyeth in Wilmington, Delaware, to be near Howard Pyle whose 50th birthday party Ashley attended in 1903.
More from the second installment of "The Blubber Hunters," written and illustrated by Clifford Ashley. This was published in Harper's Monthly Magazine for May 1906. Besides being a superb illustrator, Ashley was also an accomplished author and photographer.
By 1913 he returned to New Bedford from Wilmington, the returned there in 1915 to work in the studio of colleague Stanley Arthurs, Pyle confidant and fellow student at Wilmington. Ashley and Arthurs then set off for California and returned to Wilmington where Ashley worked until 1916 when he returned to Massachusetts, settling down in Fairhaven, a suburb engaged in ship and boat building and suppliers to that trade, just east of New Bedford.
Prior to 1913 he became involved in 1908 in purchasing antique mahogany furniture and shipping it to New England for resale. In an article entitled, "A Corner in Four Posters," which he wrote as well as illustrated in Scribner's Monthly Magazine for June 1911, he wrote:
“And so it happened, two years ago, I yielded to the greatest temptation of my life and in a short while found myself possessed of some one thousand pieces of antique mahogany furniture. . . .”
He was in Kingston on the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean for this adventure, which depended a great deal on his association with Harry, a local character whose portrait he lovingly rendered.
Ashley married Sarah Rodman Scudder Clark in 1932. They made their home in Westport where they rehabbed an old house and raised two daughters, Phoebe and Jane.
An illustration for "The Christmas Exile," which appeared in Scribner's Monthly Magazine for December 1909.