Humble And Grand: The Throne Of The Third Heaven
Old furniture, jelly jars, discarded light bulbs, cardboard, plastic, foil and bits of purple paper, these are the materials James Hampton used to make The Throne of the Third Heaven. He bound them together with tacks, pins, tape and glue and, just like that, created a masterpiece that is as at home in the Smithsonian as it would be in the Viktor Wynd Museum.
The artwork is a shimmering collection of altars, crowns, lecterns and tablets, all arranged around the titular Throne of the Third Heaven, a 7ft silver throne made out of an old chair adorned with whatever Hampton's visions told him to adorn it with.
A Visionary Work To Rival That Of William Blake
Hampton made the throne in preparation for Christ's return. He believed himself to be a frequent recipient of messages from God. It is under the guidance of these messages that he created his work.
He inscribed the crest of the throne with the words 'Fear Not', and many of its other 180 items with quotes from the book of Revelation. The name' Third Heaven' is also taken from scripture and refers to the 'heaven of heavens'.
Alongside the throne he created a 108 page book, The Book of the 7 Dispensation, most of which is written in a mysterious script that is still yet to be deciphered. One item the book is known to contain is a 2nd set of Commandmants, given to Hampton by God seeing as man no longer obeyed the original 10.
The Throne of the Third Heaven Is Discovered
Hampton laboured away for 14 years in a rented garage to create his masterpiece, mostly in secret. When he had at last finished it he approached several churches hoping they might use it for educational means. None of them were interested. He contacted a couple of reporters. They didn't deem it worthy of coverage.
The throne didn't receive the attention it deserved until after Hampton's death, in 1964, when it was discovered by the owner of the garage coming round to find out why his rent hadn't been paid. He asked Hampton's sister if she wanted the work.
'No,' she said.
He put an ad in the local paper. A sculptor, Ed Kelly, answered. Kelly contacted an art collector. The art collector contacted several art dealers. The word began to spread. Harry Lowe, then assistant director of the Smithsonian Art Museum, paid the garage visit.
Walking into it was 'like opening Tut's tomb,' he said.
Lowe paid off Hampton's outstanding rent and the Throne of the Third Heaven was donated to the museum, where it can still be seen today on the 1st floor of the West Wing.
It has since been praised as America's greatest work of visionary art, a testament to one man's faith in God as the hope of salvation and a 'unique fusion of biblical and African-American traditional imagery'.
Hampton himself was born in South Carolina, in 1909, one of four children. In 1928 he moved to Washington DC where he worked as a cook and shared an apartment with his older brother. He was drafted for the war effort in 1943 and served with the 385th Aviation Squadron.
In 1945 he was awarded the bronze star and honourably discharged. He returned to Washington DC and, in 1946, started work as a janitor. This remained his job until he died of stomach cancer in 1964. Used light bulbs taken from the buildings he looked after can be found amongst the objects in his masterpiece, the Throne of the Third Heaven.
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