The House of Dance and Feathers in New Orleans

It's a rare treat to be able to see the Mardi Gras Indians in action. In the midst of a parade, you won't be able to get close enough to see the intricate beadwork in all its detail. At the House of Dance and Feathers, the handmade costumes from years past are on full display in this charming museum deep in the Lower Ninth Ward.

I was working on my Mardi Gras Indian costumes for the Choctaw Hunters, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe I helped start in the Lower 9th Ward. While I was working on the suits, I had feathers and memorabilia all over the house. I came home one day & everything was in my backyard. My loving wife (who we call Minnie) said "I can't take this no more. You've got to find something to do with this." I moved the artwork into the shed and started putting up my various artifacts. The children in the community started calling it a museum and I gave it a name, "House of Dance & Feathers", which means second lining and Mardi Gras Indians.

I was at the point in my life where, "Okay, I can make a Mardi Gras Indian costume, but I want to educate the world about our great culture, how we do this, and why we are so successful at it even though the economics say we ain't supposed to be."

Source: Ronald Lewis,

From afar, the costumes are a sight to see, bedazzled in feathers and showcased by carnival revelers. Upon closer inspection, the images become more clear- depictions of profiles, natives decapitating cowboys, battle scenes, the hunt.

The Indians are from a history best told by the professionals, and who better to guide you through their story than the Indians themselves, in their own backyard, in the place where the costumes are made?

Coming out of slavery, being African American wasn't socially acceptable. By masking like Native Americans, it created an identity of strength. Native Americans under all the pressure and duress, would not concede. These people were almost driven into extinction, and the same kind of feeling came out of slavery, "You're not going to give us a place here in society, we'll create our own." In masking, they paid respect and homage to the Native American by using their identity and making a social statement that despite the odds, they're not going to stop.

Source: Ronald Lewis,

Currently run by Miss Minnie, the wife of the late founder Ronald Lewis, the backyard museum is full of cultural history, family lore, beautiful artifacts and New Orleans stories. Give her a call, make an appointment for the free museum and, if you're not in town, take a look at the book. And definitely ask about that mounted staff in the case out front.

Previously in New Orleans.