Victoria Herberta Zeisig, Pigdom aka A Shrine to Swine
4208 Crawford Street , Houston, Texas, 77004, us
About the Artist/Site
House painter Victoria Herberta Zeisig had liked pigs since she was a little girl, after seeing a picture of one in a preschool primer while she was growing up in the German-speaking neighborhood of Houston Heights. (Although for decades she dropped her German last name as people had trouble pronouncing or spelling it, in later years she brought it back.) She decided, at age 18, that she would own a pig someday, yet always raised dogs instead. Around 1982, however, attracted by the stories told of swimming pigs at the Aquarena Springs Resort in San Marcos, she visited the owner and, a year later, came back and purchased Priscilla the pig to bring home with her to Houston. Priscilla was treated like a pet, and – mostly – acted like one as well, running to meet the neighborhood children when they’d call and being friendly with all visitors. But she also ate Twinkies, wore lipstick and nail polish (both in purple shades, of course), and slept in Heberta’s bed.
Priscilla’s fame began during the summer of 1983 when she paddled over to save a young mentally disabled boy from drowning in Lake Somerville; he had stepped into a hole and gone under, so she swam to him and he was able to grab her harness while she towed him to safety. A local photographer had captured the scene, and the city rallied behind its most famous farm animal, proclaiming “Priscilla the Pig Day” on August 25, 1984, and selecting her as the first member of the Texas Pet Hall of Fame; later that fall, she was awarded the William O. Stillman award by the American Humane Society, given to pets who perform acts of life-saving courage: she was the first pig to receive this honor. She was also invited onto the Johnny Carson show, but the logistics of bringing Priscilla on an airplane squelched that idea.
Priscilla’s spectacular rescue inspired Herberta to decorate her home in Priscilla’s honor. She began glorifying Priscilla and the entire genre of animals through two- and three-dimensional work around her house and yard. Specific signs indicating the “No Porking Zone” and “Pignic Area” delineated different sections; the entire house was painted purple and was covered in all kinds of road signs, placards, and other decorations. Images of pigs were everywhere and were interspersed with other found objects of all types, shapes, and colors, including license plates, bakery packing flats, soda cans and, of course, pig-shaped figurines, ashtrays, and more. Even the mailbox and the lawn furniture were enhanced with noses and snouts. Herberta self-identified as “Ma Porker,” and after she no longer could paint houses, she bought and sold antiques and vintage items from her home.
Unfortunately, Priscilla, wallowing in the attention, not only developed a weight problem but also an unhealthy addiction to Morning Glory plants, so was sent back to San Marcos to detoxify. There, she had a litter of babies, including Jerome, who replaced Priscilla at Herberta’s after her death. (In the interim, Herberta hung out with “Little” Priscilla, the original pet’s younger sibling, who topped out at 1500 pounds.) Yet at least some of Herberta’s neighbors did not appreciate having a farm animal in the city, and she was forced to move him back to San Marcos, despite a 4000-signature petition and 1000 phone calls from her supporters to the local mayor. (Jerome had become so famous because he had been the focus of Herberta’s monthly parties in which she fed the homeless, dressed up as “Hambassador to the Homeless.”) Herberta moved to San Marcos herself in order to be closer to Jerome at one point, but she had to return to Houston after not finding sufficient work. And then, tragically, on July 12, 1994, Jerome was struck by lightning. Herberta’s friend Judy Ganske said that she was completely devastated by his death; “He was like a son to [her].” Later he was memorialized at the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art’s Art Car parade as the “Jeffrey Jerome Art Car.”
Victoria Herberta Zeisig welcomed visitors to Pigdom until her death in September, 2010. Then, in December of that year, the property was foreclosed on, and her longtime friend and housemate Ganske was evicted, despite her ill health and increasing dementia.
A few items were salvaged from Pigdom, and were taken to Vintage Galveston Antiques, 1708 23rd Street, in Galveston.
~Jo Farb Hernández
Map & Site Information
4208 Crawford Street
Houston, Texas, 77004 us
Latitude/Longitude: 29.7320879 / -95.3773312