Harry Robbins Pottenger was born in Fairfield, Ohio in 1874. The youngest of three sons born to Samuel and Mary Robbins McGriff Pottenger, he relocated to Wichita at age 13. He apparently learned photography at an early age, and before the age of 20, had opened his own studio at 106 E. Douglas. Several years later, he moved his operations to 122 N. Market St. During the late 1890s, he formed a partnership with British-born painter and cartoonist John Noble, Jr. Mr. Pottenger would take photographs, from which Mr. Noble would paint pastels. One of the most famous (or infamous) collaborations was the "Cleopatra at the Bath" painting, which had been targeted by the stone-throwing radical temperance activist Carrie (or Carry) Nation in her attack upon the Carey Hotel Saloon on December 27, 1900.
Mr. Pottenger married Agnes Davidson, the daughter of a prosperous Wichita lumber business owner, in 1905, and together they had a son, John Davidson Pottenger. During the early twentieth century, photography was still thought of as more of an art or entertainment from than as a profitable business. Mr. Pottenger sought to change that notion. He contended that photographers could achieve higher profits by focusing on quality rather than quantity. He argued consumers would rather pay more for superior photographs than less for mass-produced works of inferior quality. Mr. Pottenger personally oversaw every aspect of his business from sittings to finishing, and always used Artura prints for his portraits. An Artura print emulsion masterfully preserved the quality of the negative, thereby uncompromisingly representing the photographer's vision.
After establishing himself as one of the area's leading photographers, Mr. Pottenger shrewdly entered into a partnership with another successful Wichita photographer Fred H. Reed, who was operating his own successful studio along with a gallery he had purchased from William F. "Fred" Baldwin. The joint venture became known as the Reed-Pottenger studio. Mr. Pottenger was an active member of several photographic organizations, and served several elected posts including treasurer and secretary. In 1917, he was Secretary of the Missouri Valley Photographers' Association, and was always willing to share his knowledge with the next generation of regional photographers.
Perhaps due to health problems, Mr. Pottenger sold his studio to Fred H. Reed and O. R. Wertz in 1920, which was known thereafter as the Reed-Wertz studio. After a brief illness, 49-year-old Harry Pottenger died on November 6, 1923. Several of his prints have been digitally preserved by the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.
1920 Abel's Photographic Weekly, Vol. XXV (Cleveland, OH: Abel Publishing Company), p. 607.
1917 Bulletin of Photography, Vol. XX (Philadelphia: Frank V. Chambers), p. 439.
2014 John Noble: Wichita's Artist Abroad by Michael Carmody (URL: http://f5paper.com/article/john-noble-wichitas-artist-abroad#sthash.ywBXtmBv.dpuf).
1923 Obituary of Harry Pottenger (Wichita, KN: The Wichita Eagle), p. 3.
1900 The St. Louis and Canadian Photographer, Vol. XXIV (St. Louis, MO: Mrs. Fitzgibbon-Clark), p. 148.
1913 Studio Light: A Magazine of Information for the Profession (Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak Company), pp. 20-22.
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