William David Lechler was born in 1809, the son of Henry Lechler, gunsmith, in Carlisle, PA. The gifted, young Lechler, not unlike many young people of college age today, appears to have been unsure of his “calling,” as he first followed in the footsteps of his father as a gunsmith but then also worked as a goldsmith and silversmith. When he arrived in the small town of Waynesboro, PA in 1846, he hung out a shingle as Dr. William D. Lechler, dentist.
Lechler’s dental office was located in his residence, on the southeast corner of the diamond in Waynesboro. An advertisement in the local newspaper, Village Record, revealed that he was also a photographer. The ad touted that his photographic images were superior because of the ‘skylight’ in his studio, as compared to the side-lit photographs of his competitors.
Later, Lechler and his wife Nancy Funk Lechler moved to 19 South Church Street in Waynesboro. In a May 29, 1851 article written by one of the Village Record correspondents, Lechler’s talent as a portrait painter was espoused thusly, “If any of our friends are desirous of having a large and life-like portrait of themselves or friends, we take pleasure in commending these specimens of the beautiful art to their especial notice.” Art, specifically portraiture, became his passion for the rest of his life, as confirmed by the number of extant portraits of family members of well-to-do families in Franklin County, Pennsylvania and Washington County, Maryland.
The Lechlers remained in Waynesboro for about 24 years, which included the Civil War and all its challenges and hardships. In about 1870, for unknown reasons, at this point in time, the Lechlers moved to Smithsburg, MD where they lived on Main Street. Lechler continued practicing dentistry and continued to paint portraits, into his later years. It was noted in an 1882 newspaper article that as much as Lechler enjoyed painting, his profession was always dentistry. Although Lechler rarely signed his name on his paintings, his distinctive style of portraiture has become his signature. Only a few of his portraits are signed in script on the back of the canvas. On the John Gehr portrait, Gehr is holding a letter on which Lechler discreetly wrote, “Mr. John Gehr….. Yours truly, W D Lechler.” Lechler painted many of his subjects seated in a red chair, which has become another characteristic point of identification.
During the time period of 1870 to 1900, the focus was on the woman's waist and the plain bodice with its perfect fit was accentuated by the large amount of trimmings and drapery which wrapped the figure from the hips downward and later in 1895 and 1896 by the huge leg-of-mutton sleeves. The armscye was positioned more naturally at the shoulder, making it much easier to move the arms. The bustle or crinolette disappeared in 1876 and a small hoop (unlike the Civil War era) aided in keeping “the mass of fabric away from the feet.” In 1882/1883, the bustle returned with great visibility, reaching its maximum size in 1885 and finally died out by 1889 but gathers at the back of the skirt were present until about 1900. During the 1880s, women were slaves to their corsets, which had very long-boned bodices. Sleeves were tight and the necklines high. Skirts, with their layers, often had “apron” fronts and trains in the back. 15 to 20 pounds was the average weight of a dress during this time period. In the 1890s, as the bustle decreased in size and faded from fashion something else became the focus – the shape of sleeves. The size and puffiness of sleeves “ballooned,” reaching their greatest size in 1895 and 1896. Because they resembled a rear leg of lamb, the style was known as Gigot (French for leg of lamb), Leg O’ Mutton, Melon, and Balloon. When sleeves became more slender with the puff of the sleeve at the shoulder, the bodices became fuller and were known as pigeon breasts or the mono-bosoms, which were stylish at the turn of the 20th century. Skirts became narrow over the hips and the necklines rose. Keep in mind that none of the exhibited dresses have corsets beneath.
Quoting T. H. Holding, a ladies' tailor, "It is quite clear that comfort is not an essential with women, but the fit is everything….You cannot pay a woman a greater compliment than to make her so tight in the waist that she is miserable."
He was a native of Greencastle, PA, the son of Thomas and Leatha Pensinger. Doug passed away at the age of 51 on June 10, 2016. His career spanned 36 years. He began as a freelance photographer at the age of 15 for the Public Opinion newspaper, Chambersburg, PA. As a freelancer, Doug’s photography appeared in The Washington Post, The Associated Press, TIME Magazine, and Sports Illustrated. Then he became a staff photographer for the Army Times Publishing Company and for the last 17 years he worked for Getty Images.
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