DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Art from God?

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly 
It has been praised as America's greatest work of visionary art. It is definitely the most iconic piece of art in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's impressive collection. Few people know its official name. But when visitors ask to see "the throne" or "that tinfoil masterpiece" museum workers know exactly where to direct them.

Located in the folk art section of the museum, James Hampton's The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly is, to put it mildly, a thought-provoking showstopper that creates a sense of awe and wonder in almost all who see it.

The work is even more surreal when you consider it represents Hampton's entire artistic output. The self-taught artist worked on his masterpiece for more than 14 years in a rented northwest Washington, D.C. garage while he worked as a night janitor.

Hampton's full creation consists of 180 components, only a portion of which are on view. What you do see is a central throne surrounded by symmetrical, glittering objects. The entire piece was created from scavenged  discarded materials like furniture pieces, hollow cardboard cylinders, old light bulbs, jelly glasses, shards of mirrors, electrical cables, insulation board, and desk blotters, all of which were then covered in aluminum or gold foil. Objects on the right side of the throne appear to refer to the New Testament; those on the left side to the Old Testament. Massive wings suggesting angels sprout from most components. Framed tablets line the walls.

Emblazoned above the central throne are the words "Fear Not."  Many of the objects were inscribed with words from the Book of Revelation. Hampton also kept a 108-page loose-leaf notebook he entitled St. James: The Book of the 7 Dispensations. Some of the text is in English, but most of it is written in an unknown script that to this day remains undecipherable.

Although he held a steady job and served in the military during World War II, Hampton was somewhat of a recluse who spent almost all his available time working on his shrine. A month after his death, the owner of the garage he rented came to find out why the rent had not been paid. Opening the garage door, he encountered Hampton's 14-year project.

In 1970, the work was donated to the Smithsonian. It was recently refurbished and is now back on display where visitors once again can marvel at the stunning results of what appears to be one man's faith of God and his hope for salvation.

Tales, Tips, Tidbits
If you would like to see (and perhaps try to decipher) Hampton's strange, inexplicable notebook, you can, since it has been placed on line. Just click here to see Hampton's text. Perhaps the sign posted on the wall of Hampton's garage offers a clue. "Where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18 from the King James Version).

Blog Archive

Popular Posts