Outsider artist James Hampton’s writing in an unknown script is one of the world’s most puzzling crypto mysteries. Today, I’m going to introduce an unencrypted text that can be read on Hampton’s only artwork. As far as I know, this note has never been published before.
James Hampton (1909–1964) was an African-American janitor and cook living in the DC area. Only after his death, it was discovered that he was also an artist.
The only artwork Hampton left behind is a large assemblage of religious art from scavenged materials, titled The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly. This sculpture is on display at the Smithonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. Last week, I had the chance to take a look at it. Though I had seen it before, I was quite impressed.
Hampton was very religious. His installation has the appearance of an altar.
Hampton’s artwork comprises a number of labels that bear an unknown writing. Here’s an example:
The same script can be found in a notebook Hampton left behind:
Hampton’s notebook has over a hundred pages filled with strange writing (also known as “Hamptonese)”. It is completely unknown what these notes mean.
In addition to the notebook and the lables, Hampton left behind a number of sheets written in Hamptonese. A few 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 at the third position (00003) on my encrypted book list.
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 Hamptonese, and so does Craig Bauer’s book Unsolved!. Here are scans of all pages and a transcription.
An unencrypted text
When I saw the sculpture last week, I noticed that there are a few pages of type-written text sticked on top of one of the central sculpture pieces. I assume that Hampton himself put them there. As far as I know, these (unencrypted) notes are not mentioned in the literature about Hamptonese. They are hardly visible and almost impossible to read from the standing point of a museum visitor, but with my smart phone I could take pictures of them (sometimes it’s an adavantage of being tall). The photos I took are reproduced in the following.
Apparently, these writings are religious in nature. The text on the third picture is the most interesting one. It refers to events that took place in 1946 and 1950. Does a reader know what Hampton had in mind?
I don’t think that these notes will provide overwhelming new insights about Hampton, let alone that they will help to decipher Hamptonese. Nevertheless, it might be intereting to check what Hampton wrote and why these sheets became a part of his artwork.
Further reading: Top 50 crypto mystery solved: Thomas Ernst deciphers Fredinand III’s encrypted letters