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Recreating the Throne Room

I'll never forget something I saw when I walked into the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. Just inside the door, in an alcove, was an arrangement called "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation's Millennium General Assembly." There were 180 pieces in the arrangement—from tables to chairs to small decorative items—all pulled together by James Hampton, a quiet, virtually unknown janitor from the D.C. area. Hampton simply wanted to depict God's throne room.

This extraordinary collection had been found in his garage after he died in 1964. No one knew he had been working on it for some 20 years. All these pieces were made from cast-off items—old furniture, gold and aluminum foil from store displays, bottles, cigarette boxes, wine bottles, rolls of kitchen foil, used light bulbs, cardboard, insulation board, construction paper, desk blotters, and sheets of transparent plastic—all precariously held together with glue, tape, tacks, and pins.

On a bulletin board in the garage he had copied this verse from Proverbs 29:18: "Where there is no vision the people perish." He believed people needed a vision of God's glory, so he set out, singlehandedly, to give it to them.

No one knows much about James Hampton, but we know this: what he imagined as God's throne room has become a national treasure.

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