In May of 2001, Joe Potzernitz passed away. He was a master artist who contributed so much to the cultural landscape of California. He is missed by the many who enjoyed and benefited from his work.
One of the primary distinguishing features of California saddlery is the decorative floral carving of the exposed bark-tanned leather parts. Saddles are necessary tools of working cattlemen, and are essential gear for rodeo and pleasure riders as well. Potzernitz & Sons Harness & Saddlery in Fresno is an establishment known to all kinds of riders in the Central Valley.
Three generations of Potzernitz, Steve, Joe (son), and Chris (grandson), have kept quality and tradition at the front of their craft. Saddlery was Steve’s lifetime occupation, beginning in 1900 when he was an apprentice in Hungary. Steve’s reputation grew amongst California cowboys and other riding enthusiasts soon after he arrived in Fresno and went to work for A.D. Colliver Saddle Shop in 1934. When Colliver retired in 1946, he sold the shop to Steve, and the Potzernitz family saddle-making dynasty began. Steve began teaching his son, Joe in 1938. Joe says, “The style of saddle I learned to make in 1938 is as much in demand today as it was then. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know many hard working and down to earth people in the cattle and horse business. It’s all I know and it pays the bills.”
Joe’s son Chris grew up around the shop watching his grandfather, father and uncles working at what they did best to create what seemed to him to be miracles. Chris, who is 48, works together with his father doing the more routine stamping while Joe does all the layout and carving of intricate floral patterns. Chris is now ready to learn the advanced artistic details of saddlery of his family’s tradition. Chris may someday have his own apprentices. “So far, two of my five children have an interest and an aptitude for this part of my life. I hope to continue in this family tradition of saddle making and teach it to my children, and live long enough to teach my grandchildren as well.”