** UPDATED : 03/04/18
This page serves as the official history of The Bone Hole (aka “the bonehole”). Every once in a while, it gets referenced through a nostalgic memory or website… as well as it should, after all, lots of good people helped make it special. This page will be periodically updated as additional bits from the archive become available, including facts, recollections, photos, flyers, etc. Please contact me if you have any additions, edits, suggestions, etc. for consideration. For the record, it went a lil’ sumthin’ like this:
The Bone Hole (1990–1993) was founded in September 1990 by interdisciplinary artist William Wilson and musician Gary Calabret. Envisioned as an idea and place/space for artful experimentation; the collective studio in the dilapidated downtown of the city served as home to over two dozen visual artists, writers, and musicians into 1993. Inspired by the studios of YSU Professors Al Bright and Jim Pernotto, and local clay artist Scott Pergande, the ever-changing art space added a new set of creative options in an effort to reinvigorate the area.
According to the legends, the historic building at 263 West Federal was an early 1900’s Youngstown Athletic Club where the main attraction was betting on amateur boxing, although it was likely a retail establishment first. In 1914 it was a meat and grocery opened by the National Market Company. Sometime thereafter, it was turned into a private gentlemen’s club and hall for Youngstown’s wealthy elite to drink, smoke, shoot pool, throw cards, and talk business. We heard the names “Pollocks and Wicks” dropped a few times. 263 changed ownership and rotated retail storefronts (including a pretty cool electronics and maker shop) across the second half of the 20th Century. In 1978-79, it was the headquarters of the “Save Our Valley Campaign” – an effort of Ecumenical Coalition to invest in local banks with the hopes of saving/buying the steel mills.
The oral history also told us the building was long rumored to be haunted. Downtown property mogul, or mob slumlord depending on who you talk to, Andrew Marino offered the building to Wilson and Calabrette for $200 a month on a no-lease with free-steam-heat as-long-as-Andy-could-steal-it plan. The electric was commercial rate and pricey as re-zoning wasn’t a realistic option. With that, The Bone Hole was named in reference to the industrial collapse of Youngstown, a cultural graveyard… subsequently members and fans would read their own meanings into the name which we never confirmed nor denied.
The retail space of the first floor of the building was barely renovated by the end of October, just in time for the first of three legendary Halloween parties. Charging a $1 cover, the event featured an evening of horror art, costumes, and local bands. The party drew an astonishing crowd of over 700 local arts supporters, college students, and curious thrill seekers from 9 PM to 3 AM. The Youngstown Police Department were notified of the event, and despite its size, lack of permits and a considerable amount of consumption, they kindly never interfered with the event. In fact, a few officers stopped by after their shift and shared a beer noting, “this place is wild!” The proceeds from the event were reinvested to upgrade the studio and pay the ever erratic utilities for a few months. Unfortunately the success of the event garnered the studio the reputation of being a new bar which the members refuted through the spring of 1991 by offering no public events. Several pub owners in the downtown area would go on to approach Wilson and Calabret and asked to be notified when future events would be held as their establishments were precariously empty on Halloween night. The beloved, legendary Tommy Simon (1954 – 2017) of The Cedars Lounge exclaimed, “You goddamned kids are gonna put me out of business! <Grumble> Just make sure you invite me to the next party <Grumble-Grumble>.”
In May studio members Wilson and bil Shannon (artist and celebrated Boogie Man Smash drummer) were invited to participate in The Steel Valley Art Teachers Association’s Artist Walk and Progressive Dinner. Wilson and Shannon unleashed a large format multi-media installation across half of the studio. The work was entitled “Revenge” and combined painting, sculpture, spatial art, lighting and sound into a emotional narrative of nature vs. man. The installation received critical acclaim and was requested to be offered again at the Bliss Hall Gallery on the campus of Youngstown State University the following year.
The summer of 1991 brought the infamous nocturnal raid on the old Star Palace/Theatre, originally the State Theatre, with members of The Bone Hole, Mad Love Studios, and Pat and Rob. The Palace had been belly-up since its last run of shows in the late 80s, and Marino was also the owner. A little know fact of The Bone Hole was that Andy kept (and subsequently shared) the keys to all of the buildings he owned with Wilson and Calabret. Stored in a little metal box in the mysterious and warehouse-like basement, complete with a stockpile of DDT, those keys were a gateway to equipping the studio with essential supplies.
In preparation for “the ONE Year -in effect- Anniversary Bash,” the studio was redecorated with velvet theatre curtains, bar stools, barware, furniture and accessories. Held Friday, September 13th from 10 PM to 4 AM with a $2 cover, the studio hosted an intimate evening with 300 friends and launched a line of limited edition t-shirts, stickers and promotional flyers. It was at this time the tag line, “Creative Vertabrae – The spine of history was always fine art” emerged and the studio announced “A Night In Hell – Halloween Bash II” in the first of three newsletter-fanzines. The 2nd Halloween party was held on Friday, November 1st, 1991 in honor of the pagan Samhain holiday, again with a $2 cover and a deep line-up that included Coin Monster and one of the most memorable performances by Scarlet Picnic. The event was promoted with editioned flyers by Shawn Kriech of Mad Love and Jason Van Hoose offered the iconic “Y-town Repent” t-shirts. There are several legendary stories from the party which drew a crowd of 500+ between the hours of 9 PM and 3 AM ranging from Kriech’s outrageous costume, to a “human plunger” operation to save the studio’s single toilet for line of 30 ladies. There are those of us who have it burned in a our memories, still chucklin’ every now and then. In the aftermath of Halloween II, the studio garnered celebrated press coverage (Jambar/Speed of Sound/Reconnoiter/Youngstown Vindicator) despite its caustic attack on the lack of arts writing in the local media and critique of the less-than progressive city with its national claim to fame as “Murdertown.”
Over the next year members changed often while the studio struggled to endure several dark days of creative differences, and the loss of winter heating, as Youngstown Heat & Steam finally caught up with Andy’s exploits, followed into 1992. Despite challenges the studio went on to offer numerous successful events including schools tours, art lessons, art exhibitions, rehearsal and studio rentals, concerts and even a coffee night where local members of the creative community would huddle around the vinyl horseshoe booth and discuss art, politics and religion.
By the fall of 1992, the fate of the studio was being debated as the junkie and homeless populations of downtown surged. In addition, the City planned to purchase and demolish several historic buildings in order to construct parking lots in the post-5 PM ghost town. It was also during this time that our beloved landlord became ill and turned over property management to his daughter who less-than-understood her father’s appreciation of The Bone Hole. “Horror Heaven – Halloween III” was presented on Saturday, October 31st and designed as the studio’s farewell anniversary event. To commemorate the last of the epic parties, Whistle Pig performed a reunion show and an early appearance by Father (formerly De God) was featured. Once again a flock of 500+ attended across the now expected 6 hour party. Father broke out an extended-sing-along version of the Fugazi classic, Waiting Room, after 1AM that had 100 punks crooning “I’m gonna fight for what I wanna be!”
In the spring of 1993, The Bone Hole was mutually dismantled by Wilson and Calabret out of the respect for the all the artists and musicians, families and friends that contributed to make it a special sanctuary. The studio merged visual and performance art with live music like no others had in Youngstown. It remained uncompromising and unpredictable throughout its public and private offerings. It was the catalyst and refuge for many young artists to form themselves and transition in their personal and professional lives. While everyone who interacted with the space had their experiences and have their own stories to tell, ours would be incomplete without acknowledging a few of those that inspired and supported us along the way.
Collaborators & Comrades:
• Andrew Marino (landlord kingpin & street historian)
• Al Bright (african art, clarinets, pool & meat hooks!)
• Jim Pernotto (paper and ink powerplayer)
• John “The Hate Tank” Jurcison
• Rich “Jack MF Diddley” York
• Pat & Rob (early innovators downtown)
• Shawn & Jeff of Mad Love Studios (263 soul brothers in art)
• Ron Patrick
• bil “personal jesus” Shannon
• Jen Breckner
• Shane & Alex (youngin’s who indeed taught us a thing or two)
• Jim, Chris & Rick
• Rob & Marty Hudak
• Bryn Zellers
• Shafty Tim
• J.J. Zetts
• Russell (dealer of nutrients and all things post-hangover wonderful)
• Tracy “Makepeace” Parks (one eye in the camera – one eye on you!)
• Paul Curl, Bob Foley & Mark Peyko (Y-town arts writers)
There are others; time passes and memories fade… a regular or someone who stopped by to check out the place, offered support or just an interested kind word, thank you.
Whistle Pig • Boogie Man Smash • The Renfields • The Barking Hippos • Hoodface • Misled Truth • Goo Goo Dolls • Acid Fly • Feed • Ass Hamster • The Dripp Brothers • Coin Monster • The Deli Bandits • NCV • Thick • Father (DeGod) • Red Bliss • Slobberbhang
Odd, Amusing & Rare Factoids:
The lower facade was remodeled with black tempered glass, which covered original ceramic tile.
The second bathroom provided a secret entrance to the basement, however this room was condemned and considered by some to be truly evil.
The entire 3 levels of the building routinely exhibited unexplained phenomenon… either that, or the laws of physics aren’t always so adequate.
The basement contained cases of 1 gallon steel cans of DDT, great found objects and thousands of feet of conduit and steel pipe.
The original ceiling was decorative paneled tin and could only be seen from the loft window. There were several nights we contemplated ripping down the drop-ceiling to expose the former glory of the space, but the asbestos wrapped pipes were a bit of a deterrent even after a few beers.
The plasma donors would line up on the sidewalk at 5 AM every weekday morning. They had no idea what we were selling, but they wanted to buy it.
The Plasma Center, while managed by fine folks, was a den of misery and confusion.
The health food store next door was fantastic and filled with goodness. Russel and the nice ladies were so understanding of our exploits, be it day or night.
The walk from the front door to the circuit box was always challenging in the dark.
Night missions to explore downtown buildings were operations of our secret society. A good mission would yield art making materials, an artifact or utilitarian item we could use at the studio. A bad mission usually involved a confrontation with a street zombie (crackhead) or a chamber full of rats. Armies giant cockroaches traveled from building to building in downtown.
The Higbees building (which could be entered through the parking deck) contained tunnels and passageways that connected the entire block of businesses and storefront.
Alex lost his virginity in the loft at one of the parties.
Ed stole the disco ball, but left the office sound proofed. A fair trade!
Al gave an incredible solo clarinet performance on the love of art.
bil rocked an entire solo accordion performance on ‘shrooms.
Rich may still have a piece of Rance’s soul, and certainly his attention.
The alter wax caught on fire one night; it was very difficult to extinguish.
William’s 440 stainless survival knife saved him from electrocution during remodel.
Back then, you could ensure steam heat service in Youngstown with mechanical ingenuity if desperate. On a wickedly cold winter night after we lost heat, I built a fire pit to stay warm enough to work on a painting, using scrap wood, paper and magazines as kindle.
One late afternoon during a raging Ohio thunderstorm/tornado combo, downtown flooded. Water was rolling down 5th Avenue; West Federal became a river and the water violently poured over the sidewalks into the store fronts. The next morning when things were drying out, another business owner shared every 10 years or so, downtown “feels the wrath of God.”
Louie vomited so badly we had to conceal him in garage bags for his/our own protection. He apologized despite a lack of memory of the whole incident; we appreciated that.
Gary threw a cassette tape into one of bil’s lizard paintings in a fit of love-gone-bad rage. In many ways, this incident explained much about lives of young artists back in the day.
In bad times we ate grated cheese and pretzel sandwiches with Italian dressing; recipes varied as new ingredients offered themselves for experimentation… mainly from the condiment selections from local eateries. In good times we ate lunch meats, honey roasted peanuts and Pringles. There was hot coffee and cold beer. Much due to the grace and support of our families.
Shawn wasn’t originally a believer, then he got the sh!t scarred out of him.
Tim used to offer everyone’s beer to young college girls in attempt to seduce them.
We still can’t speak of a certain New Year’s Eve chain of events, nor scandalous rooftop observations. It was a day in an age when secrets could still be kept.
The Hate Tank once scared off a carload of gangbangers rescuing members of the hair-metal band down the street. Probably saved their lives… the streets were awful mean that summer.
“The Arsenal” contained several arms including industrial medieval weapons fabricated from the remnants of the basement and our old respect for D&D. Christmas decorations included a tree with skulls and chains. Halloween decorations included bloody doves. The pop culture camp of our collective 1970’s childhoods was funny and comforting to us, but could be startling to visitors.
Andy’s daughter was offended by the skeletal paintings on the front of the building. She even mused it might lower the value of the property if we didn’t paint over them. Laughable!, given the building’s history and her lack of interest/understanding in our project and the City’s lack of re-development plans.
There a few historic bootleg recordings of Bone Hole performances/happenings which include hilarious quotes from the familiar cast of characters. A true time capsule!
Only a couple dozen or so photographs remain; there are also original flyers, t-shirt artwork and newsletters… including the purple YSU Jello Biafa flyer with Amber’s lip print.
While the occasional cameras were permitted, Tracy was the only artist ever permitted to film/video in the studio. I can only hope that footage makes it way back to us one day.
On the last night of official operation, the bar was dismantled and destroyed to ensure the Bone Hole’s end. The bar was always the center of event/mission planning, the physical braintrust, the natural congregation point before retiring to the altar space/living room. When we left the building for next generation of use (Bob’s occasional band practice space), it had to go with us.
Over the following few years we periodically re-entered the abandoned building… in retrospect, one part curiosity of its new fate and one part devious intent to never allow it to be recreated. Upon the last visit, there were still artifacts on the walls and in the debris pile in the back room under layers of dust and droppings. 263 must have roared a little bit when they took her down.