St. James Hampton: Prophet of the Heart

May 4, 2010

“No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life.”   -Francis Schaeffer

James Hampton’s "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly"

James Hampton’s "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly"

I didn’t even find the work attractive. Upon closer inspection it wasn’t hard to believe that this work was made mostly out of discarded junk, secondhand furniture, and endless amounts of tinfoil. Had it been any of the “junk art” works I’ve seen before, I may have passed it by without a thought. However, knowing the history behind James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, one is struck with a sense of awe at this man’s lifework.  

Hampton's "Throne" found in his garage.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish" — Proverbs 29:18 (King James Version) posted on the wall of Hampton's garage.

The legacy that St. James left is truly amazing. Had he lived long enough to retire and go into ministry full time, this man surely could have started a new religious movement. What is most intriguing about St. James is that it is difficult to decide whether he really had some kind of prophetic insight for the end times, or if he was just insane. Traditionally, most of the world’s new “prophets” spend little time developing their so-called-brand-new vision from “God” before they run out to start their new religion. Standing on their new platform in the spotlight, they proclaim their new message and so-called-better-way, but St. James was an extremely humble and patient man as is revealed in his Throne and his life. Being a janitor one becomes accustomed to humility, and being African American in the early part of the 20th century, one’s level of expression is suppressed to say the least. This man collected old secondhand furniture and decorated it with gold and silver tinfoil and purple tissue paper, and he meticulously formed it all into a throne for the King of Kings to rule from upon his second coming. This throne and the objects surrounding it, all with specific meaning, were created with an incredible amount of artistic detail. How many hours did he spend searching secondhand shops? How often did his eyes comb the streets and trash piles looking for the perfect item he needed to complete a piece of the work? How many sleepless nights did he spend pushing and molding his tinfoil into the right shape to match the details given to him from dead Biblical patriarchs? As he put so much of his heart and soul into his work, how in the world did he not talk about it to anyone he knew before his death? It’s easy to pass this guy off as crazy, but if you are a Bible-believing Christian, there are a few things you are forced to deal with.

In truth, St. James shares a lot of the characteristics of the Old Testament prophets; look at all the crazy stuff God called them to do! With that perspective, St. James is not unordinary. But then, look at the object itself; will Christ in all his glory of the second coming really rule from a throne made of junked furniture and tinfoil? Who knows? If you really believe in Him, consider how he went around and shocked most religious people the first time he came down here. Doesn’t he specialize in making beauty from ashes? You could reason that Christ’s greatest work of art is to turn the trash of our used up and broken souls into something beautiful and worthy of his glory. Consider also the Jewish Temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. Even in all its splendor, it was still considered only a crude earthly shadow of God’s dwelling in heaven. The details were revealed to Moses by God, and each object had religious symbolism. Who is to say that Christ hasn’t remodeled and given His new plan to St. James, each object bearing a new distinct religious symbol? We can criticize his visions of the dead. Biblical prophets usually received their revelation through visions of heaven and through communication with the Spirit of God, but it is not unheard of for angels to bring humans messages from God. Is not possible that God would send his greatest human servants, who have passed from this world, to speak with his servants who are still in the flesh? Christ, before his crucifixion and resurrection, was visited by the spirits of Moses and Elijah. Communication with the dead is strictly forbidden in the Bible, but maybe we’re just not supposed to initiate the experience. Another issue we could raise is if God called St. James to receive this great revelation, why did he die before he could reveal it to anyone else? In the Book of Hebrews there exists what is considered the “Faith Hall of Fame.” One of the characteristics that make some of the faithful so great was their obedience to God despite the fact that they never saw their visions come to completion while they were still in the flesh on this earth. Perhaps James Hampton never intended to go public.

The Bible teaches us to test all prophecy and spiritual visions by the scriptures. I confess my arguments of St. James being a legitimate prophet are weak; however, I cannot contradict his work with my knowledge of the scriptures. If only we could read his Book of the Seven Dispensation; however, it is written almost entirely in a code that no one can break! Is this some kind of heavenly language that can only be interpreted through a revelation from God? Or is it really bad code that St. James himself just couldn’t keep straight? One wonders if he could actually go back and read over his own book. The Bible states that the followers of Jesus will be known by their fruit—their character. Of what we know of James Hampton’s outward life, there is nothing to suggest he was anything but a Christian of good character. He believed strongly that the Church of Jesus Christ shouldn’t be split into different factions and denominations, but should exist as one body. I consider myself a creative Christian, and I have had to argue with strict religious people that even though not all of my art and poetry is not a direct expression of scripture, it is all an act of human worship to my God as I pour out my heart and soul onto paper. Only God knows if he called Hampton as his prophet, but there is no doubt he had a strong love for his God that was expressed through his good character and outward humility. I believe that Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly was a very personal, unique and intense way for him to worship his Savior. His ability to use simple raw materials to produce such an interesting and grand work of art is a feat in itself, but the true greatness of his art is the passion and devotion to God that existed in James Hampton’s heart.

Peter L Richardson
Spring 1999

James Hampton’s
“Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations Millennium General Assembly”

 
 

James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly

James Hampton's "Throne" is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Throne was constructed by James Hampton (1909 – 1964), a janitor for the General Services Administration, over a 14 year period from 1950 until the time of his death, after which it was discovered in a garage he rented near his apartment in Washington D.C.  Made of scavenged materials, minutely detailed and finished with glittering foil, The Throne is composed of some 180 pieces, occupies an area of some two hundred square feet and stands three yards in height at its center.

 

 

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4 Responses to “St. James Hampton: Prophet of the Heart”

  1. Kathiek Says:

    Wow, Pete, that is pretty wild! I never heard of this before! You have actually seen it in the Smithsonian?

    • peterrock12 Says:

      Yeah, I saw it about 10 years ago, so it might not be on display anymore, but it was pretty intense to consider all the work and detail he put into creating it.

  2. Gary Harper Says:

    It was there in the American Folk Art Museum a year or two ago. Stopped me right in my tracks. If He were to return and rule from an actual chair, would you or God want it any other way?

  3. peterrock12 Says:

    absolutely.


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