Remembered for using egg tempera and casein to produce brightly colored, dynamic paintings, he was a key figure in the development of 20th-century Native American art.
He began his artistic career with the Works Progress Administration's South Dakota Artists Project and later earned degrees from both Dakota Wesleyan University and the University of Oklahoma.
He taught for over two decades in the University of South Dakota's art department.
A member of the Yanktonai Dakota tribe, he spent his youth on South Dakota's Crow Creek Reservation. He and his wife, Heidi Hampel, met in Germany during World War II; the couple subsequently welcomed a child named Inge Dawn.
He and R.C. Gorman were both prominent 20th-century Native American artists.