Als Ik Kan: To the Best of My Ability

Watching the Antiques Roadshow on PBS, I first learned about Wisconsin state native and furniture icon, Gustav Stickley.  He was well-known for marking the bottom of every piece of furniture he built with the Flemish craftsman’s phrase “Als Ik Kan”. Translated, the words mean “to the best of my ability”.

It’s hard to imagine there could be a more perfect definition for personal excellence. Whatever business (or sport, etc.) you happen to be in, I believe this  motto is a great one to incorporate in life. If you think about it, what else is there but trying our very best, right?

The Stickley motto “Als ik Kan” comes from a quote by one of my favorite Dutch master’s, Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck. One of the most engaging, famous paintings by this 15th century Dutch master is The Arnolfini Wedding.

This masterpiece is particularly interesting because almost every detail is a symbol, not just for the Arnolfini couple, but for marriage in general. 

As an example, take a close look at the mirror on the wall behind the couple (see below). It literally reflects Van Eyck’s great skill as a painter. I am still in awe every time I look at this amazing feat of extraordinary artistic talent. Look really closely, Van Eyck accurately recreates the entire wedding scene, even to the extent of distorting the figures and forms as they would have appeared on a curved surface. 

No matter our profession, we all have the chance to give our very best on a daily basis. Few however, can actually validate it and proudly exclaim:  “Als Ik Kan!” In my estimation, Van Eyck was certainly one of them who lived up to this mantra of personal excellence. Stickley was another one. For these artists, it is perpetuated in what they tangibly produced. They simply did things to the best of their ability…GW

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