Dancing with Coyote

Shuffle Off to Buffalo #V
Harry Fonseca (Maidu, American)

Students will use Harry Fonseca’s painting Shuffle Off to Buffalo to spur their imaginations as they dance and dress up in costumes.

Intended Age Group
Early childhood (ages 3-5)
Standards Area
Visual Arts
Lesson Length
One 25–30 minute lesson

Students will be able to:

  • identify at least three colors in the painting; and
  • move freely to a song with limited inhibition.


  1. Show students Harry Fonseca’s painting Shuffle Off to Buffalo and lead a discussion on the following questions (provide the “answers” using the About the Art section only after the children have shared their ideas):
  • What animal is in the painting?
  • What is he doing?
  • Why is he dressed up?
  • Why are there lights?
  • Where is he?
  1. Tell the students that the name of the painting is Shuffle Off to Buffalo and that you are going to play the song that the title came from. Have them dance to the music.
  2. Circle the children up and remind them that the animal in the painting is a coyote. Have the children brainstorm on why Coyote might be dressed up in the painting. Is the artist using the painting as a lesson? (for older children)
  3. Share that they now get to dress up and then dance to the song again. Before dancing, you could focus on their visual skills by talking about how Coyote’s body is positioned in the painting and having the children try to mimic his pose. They might incorporate it into their dance if it feels good.
  4. Dance to Shuffle Off to Buffalo again.


  • One copy of the song “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” from the musical 42nd Street and a CD or tape player (or access to play the link to this video)
  • Assorted costume pieces for the children to wear
  • About the Art section on Harry Fonseca’s painting Shuffle Off to Buffalo (included with the lesson plan)
  • One color photocopy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards
  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

Shuffle Off to Buffalo #V

Harry Fonseca, Maidu, American, 1946-2006
Born: Sacramento, CA
Work Locations: Santa Barbara, CA, Sacramento, CA, Santa Fe, NM
About the Artist

Harry Fonseca was born in Sacramento, California in 1946, and passed away in December of 2006. He came from Maidu, Hawaiian, and Portuguese background, and his Maidu ancestry largely influenced his work. Much of his early inspiration came from traditional Native art forms, including basketry and dance, and from the Maidu creation story. Fonseca also studied the art of European masters and loved the opera. He connected to tradition in new ways, combining themes and patterns from his heritage with his own artistic vision and ideas from contemporary society. Fonseca traveled internationally to paint and lecture, and participated in numerous exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale in Italy in 1999. He was the recipient of a number of grants and awards, including the Alan Houser Memorial Award, presented to him by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, celebrating “an outstanding individual who has demonstrated artistic success and community involvement.”

What Inspired It

Fonseca began using the character Coyote in the late 1970s (the Denver Art Museum owns two from the series; Coyote #1 shows a Maidu dancer dressed as a coyote wearing a condor feather cape). Coyote appears in several traditional Native legends from different tribes and has many meanings, including, but not limited to, the trickster, the wise man, and the changer or transformer. He has a strong place in the Maidu creation story. Fonseca created a series of paintings that places Coyote in contemporary settings—as a biker, or a dancer in the ballet Swan Lake, for example. In placing the Native American folk hero in contemporary, mainstream settings, Fonseca created imagery that can break down stereotypes. He shows both Natives and non-Natives that Native people are active participants in making mainstream life and culture.



The title, Shuffle Off to Buffalo #V, comes from a song in the Broadway play 42nd Street.


Fonseca applied glitter to the border, adding to the theatrical and playful look of the painting. Fonseca may also have used glitter here to reference the California gold rush. Between 1846 and 1870, in California alone, the gold rush caused an 80 percent decline in American Indian populations that directly affected Maidu culture.


Fonseca placed Coyote on a stage dressed in an Uncle Sam costume. By placing Coyote in this contemporary setting, Fonseca made the suggestion that Coyote is the president of the United States. Coyote himself represents Native Americans, and in this painting asserts that Native people can take on any role they choose.

Thick Application of Paint

Fonseca chose to apply the paint thickly. The red curtains appear velvety and heavy. The yellow frame, enhanced with glitter, seems to emphasize Coyote as a celebrity.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.