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Thu Jan 2, 2014, 01:00 PM

Man creates just one piece of art

James Hampton worked as a janitor in Washington, D.C. up to the time of his death in 1964. He was renting a garage space and after he died the rent payments stopped so the owner went to see what was in the garage. What he found there is now regarded to be America's greatest work of visionary art. For 14 years Hampton worked creating this unusual and personal vision of faith and salvation.

From the Gallery Label at the Smithsonian:

Hampton's full creation consists of 180 components—only a portion of which are on view. The total work suggests a chancel complete with altar, a throne, offertory tables, pulpits, mercy seats, and other obscure objects of Hampton's own invention. His work also includes plaques, tags, and notebooks bearing a secret writing system which has yet to be, and may never be, deciphered.


Massive wings, suggesting angels, sprout from most components; framed tablets line the walls, and crowns and other complex foil decorations fill every available space of the assemblage. The entire complex was originally placed on a three-foot tall platform set stage like against the rear wall of his garage.

The Throne and all of its associated components are made from discarded materials and found objects consisting of old furniture, wooden planks and supports, cardboard cutouts, scraps of insulation board, discarded light bulbs, jelly glasses, hollow cardboard cylinders, Kraft paper, desk blotters, mirror fragments and electrical cables and a variety of other “found objects,” all scavenged from second-hand shops, the streets, or the federal office buildings in which he worked. To complete each element, Hampton used shimmering metallic foils and brilliant purple paper (now faded to tan) to evoke spiritual awe and splendor. Hampton’s symbolism extended even to his choice of materials such as light bulbs, which represent God as the light of the world.


Amazing what one can accomplish when they set their mind to it.

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