The Autry Museum of the American West announced on July 11 that it has acquired the estate of renowned Maidu, Portuguese and Hawaiian artist Harry Fonseca (1946-2006).
The collection includes over 500 original artworks as well as Fonseca’s personal journals, papers and sketchbooks, most of which have never been exhibited, researched or published.
Fonseca was among a generation of 20th century Native American artists who created work that transcended expectations. Best-known for paintings with “Coyote,” an animated character depicted in non-traditional settings, Fonseca also created work depicting historical events such as the California Gold Rush.
“In this single step, with the acquisition of the main and the most important of the works in the estate of the late Harry Fonseca, The Autry has transformed its position as a national center of collecting, researching and interpreting contemporary Native fine art. Fonseca already is highly respected, specifically for his immense gifts as an artist and the uniformly high quality of his prodigious volume of work. In addition, 21st century art history will view him more generally as an undeniable and valued bridge between Native art and the broader international contemporary art world,” said The Autry’s president and CEO W. Richard West, Jr. “His impact on both was seminal and enduring, and in addition, the Autry’s pursuit of mission – interpreting the vast cultural complexities, past, present and future of the American West – has been profoundly enhanced.”
Bruce Bernstein and Brian Bibby, trustees of the Harry Fonseca Trust, said they appreciate The Autry’s commitment to preserving and providing access to the collection.
“The fundamental goal of the Fonseca Trust has been to locate an institution with the means, curatorship and commitment to place the breadth and depth of Harry’s creative genius and deep scholarly approach to making art,” Bernstein and Bibby said in a statement. “On behalf of the Fonseca Trust and Harry’s family, we thank The Autry for stepping forward in such an enormous and significant way.”
Born in Sacramento in 1946, Fonseca began his art career in the 1960s at California State University, Sacramento. Influenced by basketry designs, dance regalia and his participation as a traditional dancer, Fonseca’s earliest pieces drew from his Maidu heritage. He first gained public attention with his invention of the “Coyote” series in the 1970s. Fonseca’s work later took a more political turn with the “Discovery of Gold and Souls in California” series in the 1990s and other series that connected to California history. Fonseca had a studio in New Mexico until his passing in December 2006.
The Autry Museum is located in Griffith Park at 4700 Western Heritage Way. For information, visit www.theautry.org.
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