Burford received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1942 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1947 from the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History. He was one of the students mentored by Grant Wood.
Burford began his career as a roadie for the Tom Mix Circus in 1934 and he also painted circus life. He joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1942. Five years later Byron became a teacher of painting and then a professor of art at the University of Iowa, where he worked until 1986. Since 1986, he was a professor emeritus at the same university.
Also he was a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota in 1959, at California College of Arts in 1962 and at the University Massachusetts of Amherst in 1967.
In addition to his teaching career, in the 1950's, Byron moonlighted both as a jazz musician and as a magician touring Midwestern movie theatres with his spook show Dr. Caligari's Cabinet of Horrors.
Burford painted dozens of motorized life-sized canvas-covered figures, included a life-sized elephant, put them under a canvas tent and toured the Midwest in the 1970's under the sponsorship of the National Endowment of the Arts.
Quotes from others about the person
“"Byron taught art is not just 'something on a wall', it comes from your life experience." - John Dilg”
On March 21, 1944 Byron Burford married Kathleen Marguerite. They have 3 children.