I wandered into the great art of James Hampton when his Third Throne of heaven was on loan as an installation at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston in 1977. Had no pre-knowledge or preparation for it. It was just there. And what it was was a spiritual experience of supernaturalness on earth.
Most properly it is known as Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly. Imagine the Sliver Gate Quartet crossing paths with Sun Ra, all in the mind of a polite curator parson. Godsmacking, hey?
Hampton was a person who in spare time and during retirement built an altar, wrote in cryptic Afric tongue, and kept all mostly to himself, all in Wash Dc. He created an altar in a rented alchemist garage. Discovered to the art world after he died in 1964, it was the biggest folk art treasure since Grandma Moses or the Peaceable Kingdom. But people are still picking up on Hampton in 2006. He is not too well known. His work is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
On a second trip to the Throne at MFA in '70s, this time with a date [she liked Hobbs or maybe it was Locke and liked fact that Hobbs or Locke liked billiards], I wrote a poem that I used to call “The Rose of Sharon.’ I think it was that time of year. All these objects was finding at the time were pointing to another life. The artifacts in the museum too, with Hampton’s garage the most supremely transcendent. A lot of goneness in his garage too. Awed, I tried to write it down. Oooh, the feed was all is lonliness .. you know the tune.. In the meantime this affair wasn’t working and I was surprised to discover I was the non-working part this time.
Now back to our story…Hampton’s work has been described as one of America’s sleeper masterpieces. True enough. But it does not render itself in pictures. What’s there is too hidden for the photo process. Check it out when you go to Washington.