In his portrait of Tucker, the 250-pound pet pig of friends, George Whitman offers a somewhat unlovely specimen, even by the most generous estimate. The hog’s back legs appear to have buckled under the weight of his vast body (meticulously covered in individually etched hairs) as he poses lumpenly in a stylized woodland landscape. A tiny eye (the only one visible from this angle) is all but subsumed in the rolls of fat that describe his face, which is further ornamented by unruly tufts of whiskers growing from his snout and chin. His ungainly animal bulk is at once evocative of Dürer’s Rhinoceros and Garth Williams’s illustration of Uncle, the large hirsute pig that features as a minor character in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.1 But printer/publisher James Stroud reports that the real Tucker (who can be seen online2 is smart, congenial and housetrained.3 This is fortunate as he was acquired by a Virginia family as a five-pound KuneKune piglet for a child allergic to cats and dogs, and currently lives in their home, sharing a room with one of their boys. Indeed, in Whitman’s depiction the creature’s world-weary glance has a roguish charm, the tusk at the side of his mouth disconcertingly suggestive of the dangling cigarette of a 1950s saloon sophisticate.
Whitman had been teaching drawing at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond for decades when Stroud sent him some printing plates to work on in 1998. The work they began that year resulted in the etching portfolio Untitled (2005)—ten large anthropomorphic portrait heads of animals, among them a boar, a rooster and a crocodile. Three individual but related etchings made at Stroud’s Center Street Studio in 2013 and 2014—Untitled (Landscape I, II, III)—show encounters between animals and birds in densely described foliate landscapes, where fantastic and natural elements are fused somewhat in the manner of 19th-century French printmaker Rodolphe Bresdin. Whitman began work on the Tucker portrait immediately after completing Landscape III but situated him in gentler terrain. The friendly monster rests on flower-strewn ground in the company of a butterfly and a vixen and her cubs who are living in the roots of a gnarled tree trunk. The artist knows Tucker personally, of course, and has clearly attempted to convey here both his impressive form and something of his compelling personality.
Due to pig-permit problems in their old home in Chesterfield County, Tucker’s owners relocated a few years ago to a more welcoming community in Powhatan County; Tucker continues the charity appearances for which he had already become known and is now quite a local celebrity. He has his own Facebook page and a children’s book about his escapades (and his collection of hats) is planned. But the question of what his owners expected when they purchased a pig as a hypoallergenic house pet remains open: “Not sure why they did not anticipate his growing into a 250lb hog,” deadpans Stroud.
Stroud has sent four new plates to Whitman. “He never tells me the subject in advance. They just show up months later. It is always a pleasant surprise to open the crate. Tucker was a particularly interesting unveiling.”4
- E-mail message to the author, 14 November 2017.