Heap of Birds received his Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1979), his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas (1976) and has undertaken graduate studies at The Royal College of Art, London, England. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, Massachusetts (2008).
The artist has exhibited his works at The Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, New York, New York, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia, Documenta, Kassal, Germany, Orchard Gallery, Derry, Northern Ireland, University Art Museum, Berkeley, California, Association for Visual Arts Museum, Cape Town, South Africa, Lewallen Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Hong Kong Art Center, China, Bandung Institute of Technology, Bandung, Indonesia, Grand Palais, Paris, France and the Venice Biennale, Italy.
He has served as visiting lecturer in London, England, Western Samoa, Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand, Johannesburg, South Africa, Barcelona, Spain, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Norrkoping, Sweden, Hararre, Zimbabwe, Verona, Italy, Adelaide, Australia and India.
Heap of Birds has taught as Visiting Professor at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island and Michaelis School of Art, University of Cape Town, South Africa. At the University of Oklahoma since 1988, Professor Heap of Birds teaches in Native American Studies. His seminars explore issues of the contemporary artist on local, national and international levels.
He has received grants and awards from The National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Lila Wallace Foundation, Bonfil Stanton Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trust and the Andy Warhol Foundation.
In June 2005, Heap of Birds completed the fifty-foot signature, outdoor sculpture titled Wheel. The circular porcelain enamel on steel work was commissioned by The Denver Art Museum and is inspired by the traditional Medicine Wheel of the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.
Heap of Birds’ artwork was chosen by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian as their entry towards the competition for the United States Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale. He represented the Smithsonian with a major collateral public art project and blown glass works in Venice, June 2007 titled: “Most Serene Republics”.
In 2012, Heap of Birds was one of fifty artists honored by United States Artists with an individual fellowship award of $50,000 and named USA Ford Fellow in the Visual Arts category.