James Hampton’s Throne, SAAM and Washington wanderings…

December 29, 2008 at 3:42 am Leave a comment

The Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, designed by Norman Foster at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, it is a part of the building houses the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


I love Washington DC.  I am so glad that all of my tax dollars are going to support the arts and the museums throughout this city.  (don’t burst my bubble, it gets me through.)  Today we wandered the galleries for about 6 hours and it should really take 6 days. Of course, I had to see SAAM (Smithsonian American Art Museum), which just happens to be at the same museum as the National Portrait Gallery, another incredible place.

“You don’t make it with your hands.
You form it with your hands.
You make it with your mind.”
– Edgar Tolson, 1971

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

James Hampton (1909 – 1964)
Born Elloree, South Carolina
Died Washington DC
Created 1950-1964 180 pieces in overall configuration: 10 1/2 x 27 x 14 1/2 ft.
James Hampton was a night janitor for the General Services Administration, and after work he created his masterpiece from  scavenged materials: Kraft paper, and plastic over wood furniture, paperboard, and glass, it is minutely detailed and finished with glittering gold and silver aluminum foil, all in a rented alleyway stable. The foil-wrapped bulbs are a poetic reference to Jesus as the light of the world. When dust settled on the objects, Hampton recovered them instead of cleaning.

The Throne is composed of 180 pieces, occupies an area of over two hundred square feet and stands almost three yards in height at its center. Upon it’s finish it was intended to be the centerpiece for his storefront ministry.
Born the son of an itinerant, self-ordained minister, Hampton moved to DC when he was 19. There he began to have visions, with the Lord instructing him each night as he toiled on his art. The title of the piece may reveal Hampton’s vision of heaven. 
He said of his project, “That is my life. I’ll finish before I die.” No one knew of Hampton’s creation until after his death when his landlord, who took possession of it all in lieu of back rent.  Luckily, he knew that he discovered something spectacular and called the Smithsonian. Also rescued was a collection of encoded writings, kept in ring binders or on clipboards, penned by Hampton in a secret alphabet, that have yet to be deciphered. 

Highlights from other Smithsonian Museums:

Fountain at the Freer Gallery

Cafe at the National Gallery, I loved the ceiling.

Calder Mobile

“Mound of Butter” Antoine Vollon

Waiting to ride the merry-go-round

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Entry filed under: james hampton, museums, national gallery, saam, smithsonian american art museum, throne, virginia, washington dc.

James Hampton’s Throne, SAAM and Washington wanderings… Hubble’s Rubble in Howard, Kansas

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