Behold what can result from one man, a rented garage, scrap, and fourteen or fifteen years of after-hours labor performed in complete obscurity.
The Smithsonian’s American Art Museum in Washington, DC, now houses the Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly, the life work of James Hampton - a.k.a. St. James, Director of Special Projects for the State of Eternity. As best can be determined by art historians, St. James dedicated his off-work hours from about 1950 until his death in 1964 assembling the Throne, his monument to God. For over fourteen years, he assembled jelly jars, coffee cans, scrap wood and metal, deceased light bulbs, and recovered tinfoil into something wonderful. Since James hired no help and sought no publicity, it was only upon his release from this world that his work was shared when the garage’s owner sought to rent the space out again and made the Throne available to the art world. It eventually landed in the hands of the Smithsonian and hence became part of our national heritage.
St. James’s work today resides on the first floor of the museum, near the southwest corner, in the Folk Art exhibit. The most dramatic way to approach the Throne is from the north, coming through the Special Exhibitions section. The Throne is thirty yards ahead and proudly assembled in a dark purple alcove, as it should be, like an altar. Fifteen years of light bulbs, foil, and other rejects made somehow amazing. Photos on the web do it no justice whatsoever. from five feet away, it is strictly massive and the play of light on the foil makes it glow. One might not understand the impulse that would drive someone to this sort of endeavor, but all can appreciate the result while wondering just a bit from where that inspiration truly derived.
Know Before You Go
Access to the museum is free. Take the metro to the china town exit, then walk.