World War II Veteran and His Art and Book Gallery

| March 7, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Vanessa Christie

Located on the 1600 block of West Lewis, in between Mission Hills Wine Cellar and the With Love gift shop, is the Art and Book Gallery, a small bookstore and gallery. Its owner is 86 year-old Leo Finegold, a World War II veteran who taught Russian and biology at City and Mesa College, worked for the State Department, and owned a yoga studio before opening the Art and Book Gallery.

Feingold is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. After training as an infantryman, he became a member of the 30th Infantry division. In Europe, he fought as a rifleman in front line combat before he became a prisoner of war. After being captured by the Germans, he was liberated by the Russians in 1945, he returned to the US and went to Iowa State and the University of Minnesota, where he studied biology and, after developing an interest in Russian literature, he studied Russian as well, which came in useful when he became a professor at City College, “As teaching in two departments means no one can ever find you. Therefore you maintain your independence.”

Fluent in Russian during the Cold War, Feingold became chairperson of the Foreign Language Department , as well as a member of the think tank Decision Science, as a Russian Language Specialist. His expertise in Russian language led to an assignment working for the State Department as a temporary Foreign Service officer in the former USSR.

After retiring form teaching, Feingold pened the Art and Book Gallery, at first thinking that his daughter might want to use the space for private students form her Yoga Studio, Radiance Yoga. “But I quickly became much more interested in running the bookstore and she did not need the expansion.” As a former academic, Feingold believed opening a bookstore to be a romantic notion, and quickly learned that in having a bookstore “… you learn how little you know about what you thought you knew.”

The Art and Book Gallery has seen the internet age bring about the end of many large bookstores, and while Feingold has an i-pad and respect for e-books he believes that they lack the dimension of real books, without the ability to provide the texture or illumination inherent in books. “A bookstore leads you to a world of diversity… a broad spectrum of ideas and emotions, instead of a book of the month being marketed to you.”

It is his belief that niche bookstores will continue to have a place even in the internet age, especially if their owners are not dependent on the income, love books and are primarily interested in the experience of being around people. His favorite part of owning a bookstore has been the interesting people drawn to the bookstore for conversation, glass of cognac, or cup of coffee.

The Art and Book Gallery, primarily sells antiquarian and first editions. However, there are also books on history, language, art, and artists. His favorite books, are the kind the Art and Book primarily sold, elegantly bound 19th century literature. While Leo created a webpage entitled The Last Days of Leo Tolstoy, which unlike the cinematic version presented in film The Last Station, is a scholarly rather than romanticized version of the end of Tolstoy’s life. But it was Fyodor Dostoyevsky, author of The Brothers Karamazov, who most informed his personal worldview.

Opening a Bookstore resulted in Feingold developing an interest in an area which up until then he perceived as having been lacking in his life; art, and especially abstract art. His favorite artists being the 20th century abstract artists such as Kandinsky, Richter, and De Kooning. Art, he feels, should not be looked at as an investment but as an ascetic process that enriches life. The Art and Book Gallery, contains many fine art prints as well as work by contemporary artists. In addition to selling books and art Leo also collected and sold sheet music and old periodicals.

After 9 years, Finegold has decided to close the Art and Book in order to spend more time with family and in order to have more time for other interests. Among these are a number of WebPages; Stalag3A about his experiences as a POW and more information about WWII and POW’s, Die Judischen Gefallenen a page about German Jewish soldiers who died during WWI, and Millken’s Bend about Black troops in Louisiana during the Civil War.

Leo Finegold stands in the book store that contains a unique collection of books and art work.

When asked what he plans to do now that the Art and Book is closing, Finegold asks “What isn’t there to do?” He plans to continue collecting books, meeting new people, and continuing the relationships with the people he met through the Art and Book, “Many of whom have enhanced my life in ways I never could have imagined.”

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