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James Hampton (April 8, 1909 – November 4, 1964) was an American African American official and artist. At his death, a series of works of religious art made by him for 14 years were discovered, which have given him fame as an example of the so-called marginal art.
James Hampton was born in South Carolina in 1909. His father was a gospel singer of Baptist confession. In 1928 Hampton settled in Washington, D.C., where he shared an apartment with Lee, his older brother. He worked as a cook until 1942, when he entered the Air Forces of the United States Army, serving in the 385th Aviation Squadron in the Pacific. In 1945 he returned to Washington, D.C.
In 1946 Hampton began working as a night custodian for the U.S. General Services Administration. His brother Lee died in 1948.
On November 4, 1964 James Hampton dies of stomach cancer. Never married. A month later Meyer Wertlieb, owner of a garage that Hampton had rented in 1950, found the reason why Hampton owed him several months of rent. Wartlieb knew that Hampton had been building something in the garage. When he opened the door he found the room full of glittering objects, a whole series of 177 works of art that surrounded a central throne.
For 14 years, Hampton built a throne and a whole series of relics using materials such as aluminum foil, metal sheets cut from coffee cans, corrugated cardboard, old vacuum lamps, mirror fragments, pipes, etc. glass jars and old desks. He assembled these objects with thumbtacks, glue, pins and insulating tape.
It is unknown if Hampton considered himself an artist. His work can be considered as folklore or naive art made by autodidacts, people who have not studied techniques, history or art theory.
The text The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly (The Throne of the Third Heaven for the General Assembly of the Millennium Nations) was handwritten by Hampton in different objects of the collection. On the central throne he decorated the words Fear Not. The complete work remains in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It consists of a total of 180 objects. Many of them carry inscriptions taken from biblical texts of the Apocalypse of San Juan. The objects that remain on the right side of the throne seem to refer to the New Testament and those on the left side refer to the Old Testament.
One of the objects found is a 112-page book by Hampton entitled St James: The Book of the 7 Dispensation, written in an unknown script that has not been deciphered and is known as Hamptons.
In his texts he keeps for himself the title of Director, Special Projects for the State of Eternity.
The story comes to light on December 15, 1964, in a copy of the Washington Post. Hampton had kept the entire project a secret for the vast majority of his friends. His family first heard about it when his sister went to claim the body.
The collection was donated anonymously to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1970. Currently it can be visited permanently at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.
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