More Art … and a Remarkable DC Artist

This work of art is the most stunning – and interesting – I have ever encountered.  Read the summary below from the Smithsonian Institution and see what you think …

Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millenium General Assembly

ca. 1950-64; Gold and silver tinfoil, Kraft paper and plastic over wood furniture, paperboard and glass; Gift of anonymous donors  1970.353.1. 

Artist: James Hampton; born 1909, Elloree, SC – died 1964, Washington, DC.

In 1928, when James Hampton was nineteen, he migrated from the mall rural community of Elloree, SC, to join an Kapikian_052909 025older brother living in Washington, DC.  Following service in the army between 1942 and 1945, Hampton returned to Washington, where he worked as a janitor for the General Services Administration until his death in 1964.  Although raised as a fundamentalist Baptist, he disliked the concept of a denominational God and attended a variety of the city’s churches.

 Around 1950 Hampton dedicated himself to building The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millenium General Assembly.  Although he initiated the project elsewhere, his principal construction site was a now-razed garage at 1133 N St., NW, which he began renting around 1950.  It was here that The Throne was discovered after his death.

 Kapikian_052909 032An imaginative selection and use of discarded materials characterizes this radiant work.  Hampton diligently gathered used wooden furniture, aluminum and gold foils, cardboard, Kraft paper, plastic, and light bulbs.  With glue, upholstery tacks, nails, straight pins, and wrapped foil, he assembled the structural and decorative elements of 180 objects.  Most likely, Hampton’s Throne is unfinished.

 This installation includes a representative cross section of The Throne’s components and follows Hampton’s layout.  A makeshift platform set against the rear wall was his only structural addition to the garage.  He arranged objects on the platform in three roughly parallel rows and placed others on the floor immediately in front of the platform and along side walls.

At the rear center is the throne chair, from which radiate flanking pairs of objects that match almost exactly in their details.  Hampton’s labels on the objects indicate that those to the viewer’s left of the throne chair refer to the New Testament, Jesus, and Grace, and those to the Right refer to the Old Testament, Moses, and the Law.  Wall plaques to the left bear the names of the apostles; those on the right list various prophets such as Abraham and Ezekiel.

 Many of the objects – throne chair, altar table, pulpits, and offertory tables – suggest traditional church Kapikian_052909 030appointments.  Several pairs of objects are labeled with the names of religious figures – Adam and Eve, the Virgin, and Pope Pius XII – who appeared in Hampton’s recurrent visions.  Choosing materials for their visual or symbolic effect, Hampton used shimmering metallic foils and brilliant purple paper (now faded to tan) to evoke spiritual awe and splendor, and light bulbs to represent God as the light of the world.

 Although a humble man, Hampton often referred to himself as “St. James.”  He may have considered himself a prophet like John, the author of The Book of Revelation, the Biblical writing that inspired Hampton’s belief in the Second Coming of Christ and his desire to build The Throne as a monument to the return of Christ to earth.

Kapikian_052909 031When God revealed to John the details of the Second Coming, he instructed John to record them, using a cryptic script, in a little book.  Hampton also developed a script that he said God had given to him.  The gracefully inked characters are reminiscent of diverse Middle or Far Eastern languages, but the meaning and intent of the script – inspired writing or visual artistry – remains unknown.  Hampton entered the script in a government-issue notebook that he entitled The Book of the 7 Dispensation of St. James.  “Revelation” is written on each page.  Perhaps this book contains his translation of John’s revelation or an entirely original vision.

 Dispensationalism was a popular American school of thought during the fundamentalist revivals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Ardent believer in the literal Second Coming of Christ, dispensationalists divided the history of God’s dealing with [humanity] into seven periods or dispensations, the last of which will be the “Fullness of Times” or the Millennium.

 Hampton amended the seventh dispensation so that “St. James” became not only the author of The Book of 7 Kapikian_052909 028Dispensation but also the prophetic counselor associated with the fullness of times.  As counselor, “St. James” recorded the “Old and the New Covenant” and a second set of commandments, which Hampton believed God had given him to pass on because [humanity] no longer followed the original ten.  The design of his wall plaques – combining Roman numerals one through ten with his undeciphered script – suggests commandment-bearing tablets.  So too does the title, “Nations Readjustment Plan,” on the largest wall plaque, trimmed in gold foil and on the installation’s left side.

 In 1976, art critic Robert Hughes of Time magazine wrote that The Throne “may well be the finest work of visionary religious art produced by an American.”  Certainly The Throne reveals one man’s faith in God as well as his hope for salvation.  Although Hampton did not live to initiate a public ministry, the capping phrase – “FEAR NOT” – summarizes his project’s universally eloquent message.

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