Thou Shalt Knot: Clifford W. Ashley

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Thou Shalt Knot: Clifford W. AshleyA major New Bedford Whaling Museum exhibitionJuly 2017-June 2018Opening Reception July 7, 2017Wattles Family Gallery and Dr. Gilbert and Frima Shapiro GalleryThere are still old knots that are unrecorded, and so long as there are newPurposes for rope, there will always be new knots to discover.– Clifford W. AshleyThe New Bedford Whaling Museum (NBWM) will celebrate the work of the master knot tyer, maritime artist,historian, and author Clifford W. Ashley in a monumental exhibition opening in July 2017 in two of theMuseum’s most prestigious galleries. The exhibition will include the premier of a recent gift to the Museum ofAshley’s private knot collection with interpretative material from the Museum’s private collection as well asthe artist’s paintings, prints, and works by other knot tyers and artists inspired by his work.In 2016, Ashley’s daughter, Phoebe Chardon, donated her father’s collection of knots to the NBWM. Thisincludes many of the knots Ashley used as models for the almost 7,000 illustrations in his encyclopedicmagnum opus, The Ashley Book of Knots, in continuous print since 1944. This unique collection greatlybroadens the Museum’s capacity to represent Ashley in a new light and adds to the significant holdings ofdecorative and utilitarian knots acquired by the Museum over the last hundred years. Thou Shalt Knotcelebrates Ashley’s contributions to this most fundamental and ancient of tools within a larger cultural, social,industrial, artistic, and utilitarian context.Knots are woven into the human experience, to our success as a species, and they permeate every part of ourlives. They are integral to the ships we sail, the clothes we wear, the hair we braid, the memories we keep, ourcolloquial expressions, the games we play, the shoes we tie, the presents we give, the fish we catch, the socialcontracts that bind us. They keep us at anchor, exercise our minds, bind prisoners, and help us climbmountains. They have spiritual, religious, social, and historical connotations in story-telling, rituals, fertility,counting, record keeping, and mapping. We tie one on, we spin yarns, we tie the knot, we get tongue-tied, wemeasure speed in knots, depths in fathoms, we get tied up in knots, we are fit to be tied.Knot Exhibition HighlightsThe Ashley collection of knots will be a focal point of the show. In addition, the exhibition will include a broadrange of fascinating objects with which to interpret the material drawn from the NBWM permanentcollections, partner institutions, and private collections, including “Turk’s Head” knotted scrimshaw canes,sailcloth, sailmaker and knot tying tools, examples of various fibers, Victorian braided mourning hair wreathsand jewelry, portraits, textiles, knots collected worldwide by whalers and merchants, rare books on rigging andknot tying used shipboard, decorative knots, paintings, prints, and original book illustrations that predate andpostdate Ashley. Videos of knot tying, rope making, and interactives on the mathematics of knots will be onview, and rope making machines and other tools will be on hand for visitors to explore. The exhibition will alsoinclude 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 and static ceramic sculptures of rope andsailcloth.Clifford W. Ashley: The Artist and IllustratorTogether with the Museum’s extensive complementary material on knots, a contiguous exhibition focus willfeature Ashley’s works on canvas and book illustrations to give a comprehensive perspective on one of NewBedford’s most interesting and influential citizens. Ashley was an accomplished artist who studied underHoward Pyle, one of America’s greatest illustrators, at what came to beknown as the Brandywine School. Ashley and his fellow student and friendN.C. Wyeth worked as illustrators to help with their tuition. This landedAshley his life-changing post aboard the whaleship Sunbeam for a piece onwhaling commissioned by Harper’s Monthly Magazine, an experience thatinformed much of his later work and publications. While Ashley continuedto illustrate books and journals for many years, his passion for paintingmoved him almost exclusively to canvas after 1913, focusing on his belovedNew Bedford waterfront and local landscapes around South Dartmouth. Hepublished one of his most important books, The Yankee Whaler, in 1926 onthe whaling industry; the elegantly illustrated Whaleships of New Bedford in 1929 with a foreword by FranklinDelano Roosevelt; and his pivotal Ashley Book of Knots in 1944, the latter of which encompassed over 12 yearsof his career.Knots are ubiquitous, sculptural, and mathematically elegant. Billions of possible knots and weaves have beendiscovered by mathematicians, some of which have potential as building blocks for exciting new materials ofgreat strength, economy, and efficiency. Knots have been tied at the molecular level for over 25 years, thetightest and smallest ever created just this year with a “rope” 500 times smaller than a blood vessel. Scientistsat MIT explore the strength of knots from simple cordage to the hyper elastic wire nitronol and the meaningbehind ancient Andean knot records of the quipu. Artists worldwide in all media are exploring themes relatedto knots and knot-tying, and organizations like the International Guild of Knot Tyers preserve the knowledge ofand passion for traditional tools, materials, and techniques. Riggers of historic ships from Mystic, CT to Spain toWashington State keep the heritage of this most fundamental and integral skill intact, and fishermen workcontinuously with their local and federal regulators to develop nets that balance efficiency with minimalimpact on protected species. Knots are relevant, ancient, and modern, and there is much left to discover.Imagine a world without them; we might just come undone.At last, puzzled to comprehend the meaning of such a knot, Captain Delano, addressed the knotter:"What are you knotting there, my man?""The knot," was the brief reply, without looking up."So it seems; but what is it for?""For some one else to undo," muttered back the old man, plying hisfingers harder than ever, the knot being now nearly completed.- Herman Melville, Benito Cereno, 1855

Additional Programming and EventsAdditional Programming will be scheduled to connect the exhibition with themes throughout the Museum.Visitors will learn about knots and rigging on the whaleship Lagoda, whale entanglements and rope design inthe Museum’s conservation exhibitions, net making in the Following Fish exhibit, about knots in literaturethrough a partnership with The Melville Society, and textiles and weaving in the New Bedford manufacturingexhibition Energy and Enterprise. The Children’s Discovery Center will have demonstrations and a knot tyingstation for kids, who can also take soundings off of the fo’c’sle exhibit to check for speed (knots) and depth(fathoms).An exhibition catalogue will accompany the exhibition with the following proposed themes: Clifford Ashley Biography – Artist, Author, and Entrepreneur Clifford Ashley Paintings and Drawings in the NBWM Collections Clifford Ashley in context: A history of knot tying manuals Knots in the literature of Herman Melville and Others Knot Making Tools and Materials Cultural and Practical History of knots and rope Decorative Objects with Knotty Themes Textiles Current research in knots: The Tightest and the SmallestA Symposium will be organized for fall 2017, and workshops will be scheduled throughout the year. Pleasecheck the NBWM website for updates.The exhibition is to travel to partner institutions in part or in its entirety, the parameters and venues for whichare currently being defined.

The Wattles Family Gallery

The Dr. Gilbert and Frima Shapiro Gallery

In 2016, Ashley’s daughter, Phoebe Chardon , donated her father’s collection of knots to the NBWM. This 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, in continuous print since 1944. This unique collection greatly

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