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*On this date in 1909, James Hampton was born. He was a Black folk artist.
Born in Elloree, South Carolina, his father was an itinerant Baptist preacher. Hampton received a tenth-grade education, served in the army, and was employed as a short-order cook before he began to work on his lifelong creation. As a friendless janitor in Washington D.C., Hampton collected discarded furniture, burned-out light bulbs, used jelly glasses, gold-and-silver colored aluminum foil, and other trash from government offices. Over many years he built a throne for Christ’s second coming in a rented garage. A hand-lettered sign over the throne proclaims “Fear Not.”
His construction, The Throne of the Third Haven of the Nation’s Millennium General Assembly is considered the finest piece of religious visionary folk sculpture in America. Hampton’s brilliant conception currently almost fills a permanent gallery, nineteen by twenty-one feet in size, in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art in Washington D.C. He believed he was inspired and directed by God in his work, and left a notebook of divine revelations in an illegible script.
He also left a record in English of religious experiences. A slight quiet man who worked hard, Hampton was never married. His project was not known until his death in 1964 when his sister discovered the unheated garage. A Washington photographer happened to answer an advertisement for renting the garage, and Hampton’s work came to the attention of the public. “The Throne,” stands as a remarkable testimony to his devotion, patience, faith, and imagination.