A few weeks ago, I sent some of my paintings of buildings to
California Watercolor, a gallery in Southern California that specializes in
scene paintings. Scene paintings are
generally described as art work of small towns, houses, barns, farms, and day-to-day
life at home or work. Reviewing my
paintings, I noticed a reoccurring motif: front porches that are the embodiment
As I looked closer at my paintings, I noticed that some of
the porches had potted plants and chairs, clues that these outdoor spaces are
comfortable, familiar spaces. Other
porches were empty. I realized those
porches were too small for even a chair. Even though they were picturesque,
they were only a platform or stoop at the top of a few steps before entering the
With some research I read that stoop is from the Dutch word
“stoep”, meaning small porch. Porch is from the French “porche”, which is from
the Latin “porticus colonnade” meaning a roofed-over space that is outside the
I also earned that front porches and stoops are a
reoccurring element in essays and books about urban or country life. In Richard
H. Thomas’ essay titled “From Porch to Patio”, http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/upload/cgi-bin/Porch.pdf,
Thomas describes the key aspect of porches and stoops and how they provide a
bridge from the outdoor, public realm of the street and sidewalk, to the
privacy of the home.
Porch-sitters can observe
passersby and choose the level of interaction they want: just a friendly wave;
a salutation; or an invitation to come up the stairs to the porch and visit.
Stoops are usually just large enough for one or two people to stand momentarily
before stepping inside. In spite of these constraints, sometimes the stairs
themselves serve as a place to sit, fulfilling the social aspect of a
Porches and stoops are perfect for the brief social
encounters that define neighborly relationships and facilitate asking for the
proverbial cup of sugar, checking each other’s mail or newspaper when
traveling, and keeping an eye on suspicious activities.
In the days before air conditioning, porches and stoops also
offered the hope of a breeze as a respite from the summer heat. Painted years
ago in July, “Cool Blue Porch” is an inviting example, with the 3 chairs in the
shaded porch. This blue bungalow was on
North L Street, next to a garden nursery and barbershop, just south of the
railroad tracks. Since it was a hot day
when I painted it, I sat across the street under the huge shade trees that are
still there, in front of the Buena Vida Thrift Store.
Another summer porch is “Aqua Bungalow and Palm”, South Livermore
Avenue near 7th street. I loved how the flowering geraniums provided
lively color notes against the aqua. Hanging potted plants and chairs completed
this outdoor living room.
Stoops are portrayed in “Springtime in Tubbsville”.
Tubbsville was a development of cottages named after George Tubbs who had
served as the mayor of Livermore 1935-40. It was bordered by the railroad
tracks and Railroad Avenue, between M and N Street and built immediately after
World War Two to meet the demand for housing. (Tubbsville and the blue bungalow were
demolished in the late 1980’s.)
As I pass through the old and new neighborhoods of
Livermore, I’m aware of the changing architectural house styles but the desire
for porch-sitting seems to remains constant.
By placing chairs on a broad porch, or even crowding them on a stoop, a
visual message is sent expressing the interest in informal, neighborly
interactions. As Richard H. Thomas writes
on the home and the porch, “the need for privacy and the desire to belong to a
community is still with us.”