was among the many African Americans who headed north during the Great Migration when he moved from rural Elloree, South Carolina, to Washington, D.C., in1928. After serving overseas in a segregated United States Army unit between 1942 and 1945, Hampton returned to Washington, where he worked as a janitor for the General Services Administration until his death.A mild-mannered bachelor with little formal education, Hampton also had a strong desire, as a fundamentalist Baptist, to counsel others about personal salvation in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. He began recording visions from God in 1931, and by 1950 he had dedicated himself to building
The Throne of theThird Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly
in a rented garage not far from his modest boardinghouse. Hampton described his project as amonument to Jesus in Washington, the city of monuments, and hoped to develop a storefront ministry, a goal he did not live to realize. Nonetheless, in 1976 art criticRobert Hughes of
magazine wrote that
“may well be the finest work of visionary religious art produced by an American.”Hampton built 180 objects from furniture, card-board, paper, light bulbs, and metallic foils scavenged from secondhand stores, the street, and government buildingsin which he worked. He arranged the objects on and in front of a platform in the garage to suggest a stage or an altar. The shimmering, symmetrical arrangement has acentral core comprised of a throne chair, pulpit, and altar table. Pairs of matching objects—themselves reminiscent of church furniture—flank this core.Describing himself as “Director, Special Projects, for the State of Eternity,” Hampton drew inspiration from the Book of Revelation, which concentrates on theSecond Coming of Christ. His sense of prophetic mission also yielded an undecipherable script that he recorded on his constructions and in a small volume,
The Book of the 7 Dispensation of St. James
. Efforts to save Hampton’s work after his death culminated in its donation to the Smithsonian American Art Museum inWashington, D.C., in 1970. The museum has prominently displayed
The Throne of the Third Heaven
and has also lent it to other exhibitions.
African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); Environments, Folk; Religious Folk Art; Visionary Art
Arnett, William, and Paul Arnett.
Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art,
vol. 2. Atlanta, Ga., 2001.Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe. “Going Urban: American Folk Art and the Great Migration.”
(summer 2000): 26–51. ——.
James Hampton: The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly.
Montgomery, Ala., 1977