Mariel Gardner

Community History Fellows Program 

Mariel Gardner

Mariel Gardner

Meet Mariel (she/her) 

Born in Havre de Grace, Maryland at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, Mariel Gardner is from Louisville, Kentucky, another French river city. A graduate of the J. Graham Brown School and the University of Louisville, Mariel is from the Algonquin Neighborhood of Louisville’s West End. A haphazard farmer, knitter, and photographer, Gardner is a member of the West Louisville Women’s Collaborative where she creates and sustains peaceful, artistic spaces in the West End alongside a group of multi-racial, multi-generational women from all parts of the city. She’s traveled Kentucky collecting stories of Black land dispossession and is especially interested in the study of her ancestral home of Christian County, Kentucky.

Mariel’s Project 

Lately, I’ve been traveling around Kentucky learning more about time and place to understand how I came to be a Louisvillian. My four times great grandparents owned land in Lafayette, Kentucky shortly after they were emancipated. By 1941, my great grandparents were sharecroppers in the same area, and worked on Joe Altsheler’s farm, just as Ft. Campbell was being established. That farm is now Ft. Campbell Boulevard and if not for my grandaddy writing down our family history, their existence in that place would be erased. My granny says her parents moved to Louisville’s California neighborhood so they could have the opportunity to own a home. Perhaps if they’d been given the choice, one of Louisville’s other neighborhoods may have been preferable. The city’s storied history of segregation and redlining forced my people into a place that has been called the West End since long before they arrived. So, its recent rebranding as West Louisville is more than concerning, especially when we’ve watched residents of Clarksdale and Butchertown be moved out of their homes because of the increase of land prices in areas now called Liberty Green and Nulu. 

I grew up in the Algonquin Neighborhood, across the street from my mother’s childhood home, cradled by the oak trees lining the Parkway. Like most Kentuckians, nature, even in the city, was a main character in my upbringing. From the setting sun sparkling on Algonquin pool, to the toxic froth in the pond in Chickasaw Park, the West End’s magic conjures memories, places and people that are worth preserving. No shade to West Louisville, I’m sure it is a lovely place with magic of its own, but it is not the West End. 

My project will tell the land story of the West Louisville Women’s Collaborative as we change our name to the West End Women’s Collaborative. We are a group of multi-racial, multi-generational women from all parts of Louisville creating and sustaining peaceful artistic spaces in the West End, and changing our name is only the first step toward a process of remembrance. I’ll present pieces of my research on our 8th of August Labyrinth walk in celebration of Kentucky’s Emancipation Day which was once widely celebrated throughout the Commonwealth. Our capacity as volunteers may be small, but as the West End loses Black population, reclaiming our traditions and land preserves the memory of the people who made this place a home. Since transforming a vacant lot into the Peace Labyrinth in 2014, we’ve remodeled an abandoned home that is now used as a free community gathering space. In 2020, we purchased another home and plan to create a wellness center providing space for practitioners to offer services like horticulture, acupuncture and culinary therapy. We believe wellness lies at the juncture of art and nature and the spaces we curate foster their healing properties. Our presence is just part of Hale Avenue’s story and I’m really excited to uncover more.