The artist has studied at the University of Kansas, Lawrence (BFA, 1976), undertaken graduate studies at the Royal College of Art, London (1977) and attended the Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia (MFA, 1979). He was named USA Ford Fellow in 2012 and Distinguished Alumni, University of Kansas, in 2014. Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts and Letters degrees have been awarded by the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston (2008), Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver, Canada (2017), and California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, (2018). In 2020, Heap of Birds was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a member of the Humanities & Arts class, with a specialty in Visual Arts.
Brief exhibition history
Heap of Birds has exhibited his works at The Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations Reservation, Oklahoma; 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; SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico; Hong Kong Art Center, China; Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia; Grand Palais, Paris, France; Nanyang Technological University Art Gallery, Singapore; and the Venice Biennale, Italy.
The artists’ works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, CA; Denver Art Museum, CO; Museum of Contemporary Native American Art, Santa Fe, NM; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Harold Washington Library, Chicago, IL; the Belkin Gallery at the University of British Columbia, Canada; and Simon Fraser University Gallery, Vancouver, Canada. Recent collections include: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; British Museum, London; Saint Louis Art Museum, MO; Anchorage Museum, AK; and the Library of Congress.
Professor Heap of Birds 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; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Singapore; and Delhi and Vijayawada, India. He has taught at Yale University, Rhode Island School of Design and at the University of Oklahoma.
He is retired from teaching at the University of Oklahoma after 30 years of service and is now Professor Emeritus in the Native American Studies Department. Professor Heap of Birds’ seminars explored contemporary Native American art issues within the visual arts, film, and museums on local, national, and international levels.
Grants, awards, and special projects
His public art and studio projects have received grants and awards from The National Endowment for the Arts (2012), the Andy Warhol Foundation (2004), Bonfil Stanton Foundation (2002), The Pew Charitable Trust (2000), AT&T (1999), Lila Wallace Foundation (1994), Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation (1989), and the Rockefeller Foundation (1987).
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. This broad project was created in Italy as a memorial to over 20 Sioux warriors and children who died as part of Bill Cody’s Wild West Euro shows.