US outsider artist James Hampton (1909-1964) created only one notable piece of art. In addition, he left behind over 100 pages of encrypted notes that are unsolved to date.
James Hampton (1909–1964) was an African-American janitor and artist. The only work of art he left behind is a large assemblage of religious art from scavenged materials. Only after his death, this unusual installation was discovered. James Hampton, who was completely unknown during his lifetime, is today considered an outsider artist. The following photograph is the only one I have ever seen of him:
James Hampton’s only artwork is named The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly. It is on display at the Smithonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.
Hampton was very religious. His installation has the appearance of an altar. I’m not necessarily an art enthusiast, but I find this piece of art quite impressing.
A closer shot shows that Hampton, who was not especially wealthy, used cheap material, like aluminium foil, to assemble his artwork:
The encrypted notebook
Hampton’s artwork comprises a number of lables that bear an unknown writing. Here’s an example:
The same kind of writing can be found in a notebook Hampton left behind:
This notebook has over a hundred pages filled with Hampton’s strange writing. It is completely unknown what it means.
In addition to the notebook and the lables, Hampton left behind a number of sheets with text in the same script. Some of them show drawings that might refer to the Ten Commandments:
In my view, James Hampton’s notebook is the third most important unsolved encrypted book – behind the Voynich Manuscript and the Rohonc Codex. I therefore put it on the third position (00003) of my encrypted book list.
Of course, there are many theories about the text in Hampton’s notebook and in his other documents (some call it “Hamptonese”). Hamptonese could be encrypted text, but if so, it is unclear which encryption method was used. It was certainly not a pure MASC. Phonetic English is another possible explanation.
There’s also a possibility that Hamptonese is based on a foreign language. This language might be Gullah, an English-based creole spoken by black people in some parts of the USA. While Gullah was probably not Hampton’s native language, it seems possible that he learned to speak it. Chamorro, a language spoken on two islands in the Pacific Ocean, is a candidate, too. Hampton might have got to know this idiom during his military service in the Southern Pacific. It probably takes a linguist to validate these language hypotheses.
It is also possbile that Hamptonese has no meaning at all. Perhaps, Hampton believed that he was receiving messages from god and that he tried to write these down. Such a phenomenon is referred to as automated writing.
To learn more about Hampton’s encrypted documents, check the websites of Dennis Stallings (Dennis, who is also a Voynich Manuscript expert, was the one who discovered Hampton’s notebook for the crypto scene) and Mark Stamp. My book Nicht zu knacken contains a chapter about this topic, and so does Craig Bauer’s book Unsolved!.
Here are scans of all pages. And here’s a transcription.
Further reading: Top 50 crypto mystery solved: Thomas Ernst deciphers Fredinand III’s encrypted letters