A painter of ethnic symbols related to contemporary storytelling of his 19th century Maidu ancestors, a gatherer tribe of central California, Harry Fonseca is known for what is described as primitive art. Both his subjects and his methods are unique among his peers.
One of his series called "Stone Poems," he made from yards of canvas and painted with house paint brushes and oxide-red colors. In his paintings, he frequently has coyotes, a subject he finds psychologically challenging including the relationship to the trickster figure in Indian religions. Other subjects relate to social-justice concerns, his sheer love of beauty, and his reverence for certain religious figures including meditations on Saint Francis.
His parents, raising him in Byte, California, had little understanding of this seemingly impractical pursuit to which he aspired. His father of Portuguese descent was a janitor, and his mother, a blend of Hawaiian and Maidu, was a traditional housewife and mother.
In this environment, Fonseca grew up with few books and little exposure to art, but involved himself in this subject while attending college in Sacramento. He was especially interested in the art of Africa, Latin America, and the South Pacific and later became fascinated by petroglyphs when he visited a painted rock cave near Sacramento. He loved their color and designs and sense of playfulness.
In 1978, fascinated by the multi-ethnic culture, Fonseca settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He donated his archives from 1960 to 1990 to the Heard Museum, which has an extensive artist's file in its Native American Artists Resource Collection, as well as many of his works.