Allison-Antrim exhibit features Waynesboro dentist's 19th century paintings
GREENCASTLE >> An exhibition of portraits by the 19th century artist Dr. William D. Lechler (1809-1889) will be held from Oct. 14 to Nov. 27 in the barn at Allison-Antrim Museum, 365 South Ridge Ave. This is only the second time that Lechler's portraits have been shown.
William David Lechler was born in 1809, the son of Henry Lechler, gunsmith, in Carlisle. The young Lechler 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 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 St. in Waynesboro. A May 29, 1851, article in the Village Record touted Lechler's talent as a portrait painter: "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 Lechler's 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 with all its challenges and hardships. In about 1870, for unknown reasons, 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.
An 1882 newspaper article said 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 became his signature. Only a few of his portraits are signed in script on the back of the canvas.
On a portrait of a man named John Gehr, 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.
Portraits from the Ziegler family of Leitersburg, Md., and Greencastle, John Gehr of Washington Township, Joseph and Ann Gabby of Leitersburg, William Lechler's wife, Nancy Funk Lechler, the wife of Daniel Hughes, owner of the Mont Alto Iron Works and Furnace, Joseph and Nancy Baechtel Snively of Shady Grove and others, some not yet identified, are part of the exhibition. An allegorical painting of a black slave woman bathing a white baby is also included, an example of how Lechler challenged himself, later in life, to go beyond his signature portrait style. Complementing the exhibit is the rocking chair of Joseph Gabby and his hearing horn and Mrs. Gabby's spectacles, which she wore for her portrait.
The first Lechler exhibition was done by the Washington County Museum of Fine Art, 33 years ago in 1982. It was not long before this that Lechler portraits began appearing in various estate sales, bringing to the forefront Dr. William D. Lechler's artistic talent and making his works coveted pieces in private collections in the region.
Allison-Antrim Museum is open noon-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. A special Saturday open house for the Lechler exhibition will be held 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 24. For more information visit www.greencastlemuseum.org, on Facebook, Twitter @greencastlemuzm, or call 717-597-9010. There is no charge for admission, but donations are gratefully accepted.