James Hampton worked for more than fourteen years on his masterwork: The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly, an epic, multi-component altar installation that is both astonishingly splendid and unspeakably humble. He worked in solitude, in a rented garage, transforming its drab interior into a heavenly vision, as he prepared for the return of Christ to earth. Hampton made The Throne in response to several religious visions he had. The project was highly personal, spiritual, and reflects a co-mingling of Christian and African American spiritual practices.
Hampton's full creation consists of some 180 components, which collectively suggest a chancel complete with altar, a throne, offertory tables, pulpits, mercy seats, and other objects of his own invention. The seven-foot tall throne at the rear center is the work's focal point. Pairs of objects on either side give it a powerful sense of symmetry. Objects to the right of the throne refer to the New Testament and Jesus; to the left, the Old Testament and Moses, a division that corresponds to the disposition of the saved in the Bible. Most of the objects are dedicated to a saint, prophet, or other biblical character that may have appeared in the recurrent visions that inspired Hampton's efforts.
Hampton made The Throne and its associated components from collected and discarded materials and found objects: old furniture, cardboard cutouts, discarded light bulbs, jelly glasses, Kraft paper, mirror fragments, and a variety of other "found objects," that he 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, particularly metals foils that both literally and metaphorically convey awe and brilliance and light bulbs, which represent God as the light of the world.
An icon of American visionary art, Hampton's Throne embodies one man's personal faith as well as his hope for salvation. Although Hampton did not live to initiate a public ministry, the capping phrase "FEAR NOT" summarizes his project's universally eloquent message.