Als ich kanne (if I can)
The Als ich kanne (if I can) motto of Ian van Eyck.
¶ In the Middle Ages, that golden period of the arts and crafts, each master-workman adopted some device or legend which, displayed upon every object of his creation, came finally to represent his individuality as completely as did his face, or his voice; making him known beyond the burgher circle in which he passed his life, and, after his death, becoming a magic formula, by which to conjure up his memory, even though the years had multiplied into centuries.
¶ Among the legends so employed, the one assumed by Ian van Eyck, the early Flemish painter, has retained its force and point down to our own day. Als ich kanne (if I can) appears written across the canvases of this fourteenth century chef d'ecole, placed there, without doubt, as an inspiration toward excellence in that art wherein van Eyck became an epoch maker. Appearing in the background of his masterful portraits, it has something of defiance and humor, as if offering a covert challenge to less skillful limners.
¶ The Als ich kanne of van Eyck, like the Quand meme of Sarah Bernhardt, reflects that sentiment of courage, boldness and persistence which appeals to all truly virile natures. Thus when William Morris, in his early manhood, visited the Low Countries, and there grew fired with enthusiasm for the decorative arts, he found this legend and made it his own. He used it, in French translation, first in tapestries designed for his own dwelling, and finally it became identified with him; so that the Si je puis now recalls his memory as vividly as do the designs which speak to us: from the hangings of our walls, the tiles of our floors, or the covers, of the books which lie upon our tables.
¶ The same legend in its modern Flemish form, Als 1k kan has been adopted by the Master of the United Crafts. It here forms an interesting device with a joiner's compass, which is the most primitive and distinctive tool of the worker in wood. The legend is further accompanied by the signature of the Master of the Crafts, Gustave Stickley, which, together with the proper date, appears branded upon every object produced in the workshop of the Guild.
¶ In this way, authenticity is assured, comparisons of progress are made possible, and every facility of information is afforded to the one who shall acquire the piece.
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