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M.D. Cryderman, scenic artist for hire

Updated: Feb 29

Painting signs by hand has largely gone out of style but was once a common vocation. The men (and I imagine a few women) who did it for a living sometimes supplemented their income by painting houses but also occasionally created other artwork.

In 1880s Idaho and 1890s Montana and West Kootenay/Boundary, if your opera house needed a new backdrop or you wanted to gussy up your hotel (or boat or store), M.D. Cryderman was your guy.

Main Street in Slocan City is seen in May 1897, in this R.H. Trueman photo.

The painting on the Arlington Hotel at right, advertising Queen’s Birthday celebrations, was the work of M.D. Cryderman. (Slocan Valley Historical Society)

Between 1878 and 1904, he executed numerous works. Before and after those dates, he is a complete phantom. I don’t know when or where he was born, when or where he died, or even what his initials stood for. None of his work survives; all we have is a single photo showing one of his paintings.

The first sign of Cryderman I can find is in Butte, Montana, where he plied his trade in 1878-79. In July 1880, he was at Bonanza City, Idaho, where the local Herald said he had “been painting some fine scenery” of the Yankee Fork River. Then it was on to Ketchum, central Idaho, where the Keystone of Dec. 8, 1882 reported:

In the room formerly occupied by the Keystone Chop House are several large oil paintings on canvass, recently executed by the hand of M.D. Cryderman that would well merit a position of the wall of some more famous resort. One is a large original scene of the Oregon Short Line Railroad as it appeared in the mind of our painter, representing a passenger train steaming up the Wood River valley on the outskirts of Ketchum with the cars named Wood River, Ketchum, etc. and exhibiting among other attractive things, several fishermen hauling trout from a stream close by the track. The whole is about 4x5 feet and the colors are bright and well displayed, the mountain natural, and the principals of the art well employed throughout. It is a beautiful scene upon which only a few weeks labor have been put. Another is a fine group of deer, while still another is a bear fight; all original, well shaped, beautifully colored and generally attractive.

A few weeks later Cryderman was reported to be painting an “elaborate street scene” of Ketchum and a view in Yellowstone Park. He had teamed up with a Mr. Booth to give the Enterprise restaurant “a very handsome finish.” The following year they were at work on a scene for the Ketchum Theatre. Cryderman took out an ad in the Keystone in the spring of 1883 that read:

M.D. Cryderman

House & Sign Painter




He left town suddenly in May, but the Keystone hoped for his swift return: “He has put in a very busy spring at Ketchum.”

Cryderman might have gone south 12 miles to Hailey; at least a series of letters were addressed to him there between June 1883 and January 1884. But his whereabouts are unknown until 1888, when he turned up in Burke, now a ghost town in northern Idaho, painting backdrops for the new comique — a type of burlesque theatre. According to the nearby Wallace Free Press of June 9 and 16:

The curtain represents a lighthouse scene, the work being done in an artistic manner … The stage scenery is a marvel for neatness and artistic work. Mr. Cryderman, the scenic artist, in painting the various curtains, has shown himself to be an expert with the brush. The scenery here would be a credit to any metropolitan theatre.

At the end of the year, he was in Coeur d’Alene. The Spokane Falls Review of Dec. 29, 1888 recorded his activities there:

Mr. Cryderman, of the firm of Blanchard & Cryderman, has lately painted four splendid oil paintings, size 4x3 feet each. One is the stately steamer Coeur d’Alene, another is the wharf and its surroundings, the other two are beautiful landscapes and very accurate copies of nature. T.P. Dickey has purchased the paintings. He intends to display them. They are certainly fine specimens of art.

I could find no further mention of Blanchard & Cryderman. I presume theirs was a sign painting business, but I really don’t know. I wonder what happened to those oil paintings that T.P. Dickey bought.

There’s another five year gap, and then Cryderman appears in Grangeville, Idaho, in the north central part of the state. The Idaho County Free Press of Sept. 8, 1893 explained:

Mr. Cryderman is painting a drop curtain for the stage of the new opera house. It is a lovely river landscape scene, with timber, water, mountains, an Indian encampment with Indians, canoes, tepees, etc., wild ducks, and a noble herd of elk and deer in the glade. Cryderman has the true artistic instinct and makes only the faintest outlines with his pencils and applies his colors with a free hand by the aid of the eye alone.

Cryderman completed the drop curtain and moved on to painting scenery. He also did a sign for real estate agent W.D. Robbins. His last sighting in Grangeville is October 1893.

Early the following year he set up shop in Kalispell, Montana. The Inter Lake of Feb. 9, 1894 explained:

M.D. Criederman [sic] has opened up a paint shop on First street in the building formerly known as the Q.T. restaurant. Mr. Criederman is one of the pioneers of the valley and an artist as well as painter. He has a natural genius for off hand sketching and painting, and many scenes in this vicinity which he has transferred to canvas adorn the walls of our business houses.

An ad that debuted in that issue and continued to run until Nov. 23, 1894 spelled his name Criderman. If it was wrong why didn’t he bother to have it corrected?

Carriage painting was what it sounded like: painting buggies, wagons, and sleighs. In Kalispell, Cryderman (or Criderman) also worked with a man named Wright in painting J.L. McIntire’s furniture store red, like “the horizon of the setting sun.” But that’s the only specific project we have any record of in Kalispell.

There’s a fleeting Cryderman sighting in May 1895 as he passed through Columbia Falls, Montana with a partner “en route to the North Fork country to look after some mineral interests.” (In 1887, Donley and Hart of Missoula and a Mr. Cryderman of Thompson Falls were said to own the Cryderman mining claim in Montana, but I can’t swear it’s the same guy.)

In April 1896, Cryderman was reported painting a boat at Libby, Montana. Although unidentified, this was undoubtedly the Ruth, built by Frank P. Armstrong and James D. Miller and launched that month to run on the Kootenay River. The Ruth was wrecked little over a year later in a collision with another boat.

Next Cryderman crosses the border and shows up in Kaslo, where The Kootenaian of Aug. 15, 1896 reported: “M.C. [sic] Cryderman, an expert sign writer and scenic artist of much ability, is here and will probably locate.”

The paper also noted that E.A. Pike and E.D. Hicks had leased what was known as the Columbia hall on Front Street, with plans to turn it into a hotel.

The lower floor is to receive particular attention in the way of decorating. M.C. [sic] Cryderman, a scenic and figure artist, has been given a contract to embellish the walls and panels of the office, bar and dining rooms with Kootenay lake and Slocan scenes, portraits of well known persons, pictures of the different steamers, mines, etc.

The following month Pike and Hicks opened the bar room on the lower floor and sub-leased the upper floors and dining room to a Mr. Anderson of Trail. Cryderman was reported as continuing to decorate. But after that, I could find no further references to this building, so I don’t know what he actually completed. The 1897 civic directory listed John McLeod and Frederick Lincoln Bellows as co-proprietors of the Columbia Hotel. No mention of Pike or Hicks.

Cryderman placed this ad in The Kootenaian on Oct. 24, 1896:

The ad ran every week. Strangely, however, on Jan. 9, 1897, it was changed to read “M. Crydderman.” But if his name had been misspelled previously, why did it take so long to make the correction? Stranger still, the final ad, which appeared on Jan. 30, reverted to “M. Cryderman.”

The Sandon Paystreak of Jan. 16, 1897 used another variation:

The office of Bartlett Bros. is being converted into a “thing of beauty and a joy forever” under the skillful brush of M.D. Criderman. The mountains on which some of the principal mines are located and the position of their workings are being depicted very skillfully in oils. The work is exceedingly well executed and reflects great credit on the artist.

Cryderman was also hired to paint the Arlington Hotel in Slocan City when it was enlarged. According to the Slocan Pioneer of May 22, 1897:

The painting will be white, while slate color trimmings. This branch of the work is in the very capable hands of Mr. M.D. Cryderman who is not only an expert craftsman but a skillful limner as well. Everyone who has visited the Coeur d’Alene resort at Spokane will easily recall his artistic oil sketches of character and scenery on the walls of that place. Mr. Cryderman is getting out a canvass oil sketch for the holiday opening. It is about 12 x 18 feet. In the foreground is a bust of Queen Victoria in an oval setting. At the sides rise the mountain ranges so familiar to the residents of Slocan City, with the waters of the lake in perspective.

Photographer Richard H. Trueman happened to be in Slocan that month and took a terrific photograph of Slocan’s Main Street (seen at top) that captured the painting described above. Here’s a zoomed-in view.

(This celebration was noteworthy because it was the scene of Eli Carpenter’s famous tightrope walk between the hotel and the Cousins and Cavanah store across the street.)

We lose track of Cryderman again until Sept. 30, 1899 when Greenwood’s Boundary Creek Times reported “M.D. Cryderman, a well-known painter and scenic artist is now with Goupil and Holden.” That firm advertised itself as “sign writers, painters, paperhangers, etc.”

After that, he vanishes for a bit.

Cryderman’s not on Canada’s 1901 census, the US 1910 census, or any other census I can see. He’s not listed in the Greenwood directory for 1899, 1900, or 1901, although an F.M. Cryderman was a druggist there.

The final definitive sign of him is in Seattle, where he appeared in the 1904 civic directory, listed as a painter residing at 107 Main Street. True to form, it had him down as M.D. Cryderman, with no indication of what the initials stood for. He was not listed in Seattle in 1903 or 1905.

What, if anything, can we make of the various spellings or misspellings of his name — Cryderman, Crydderman, Criderman, Criederman — and his apparent indifference toward them? Even figuring out his first name could provide us with a major clue, especially if it was an unusual name, but it was as if he deliberately covered his tracks.

An M.D. Cryderman (1856-1914) is buried in in the Silver Lake cemetery in Wolverine, Michigan. This man was Michel Cryderman, an undertaker, who doesn’t appear to have been a sign painter, although he was probably about the same age as our guy.

Mackie Cryderman (1896-1969) was a Canadian painter of some repute, but she doesn’t seem to have any connection either.

UPDATE: Finally, a breakthrough ... I think. Because Cryderman was last seen in Washington in 1904, I searched for just “Cryderman” in newspapers from that state from that year. Lo and behold, this was in the Everett Daily Herald of July 6, 1904:

Millard D. Cryderman was released from the county jail this afternoon, having been held for examination as to his sanity.

Millard! That’s an unusual name by today’s standards. Now, I can’t swear this is him, but it seems very promising.

There were no other items before or after this one to indicate what Cryderman’s supposed crime was. But there is a record on of an M. Cryderman being arrested on June 13, 1904 in Snohomish County and released two days later. Where the offense was supposed to be listed, it just said “reform school” and then indicated he was “taken to reform school.” That makes very little sense because this Cryderman was then 51 years old! It also says he was born in Michigan.

On the whole, it may suggest Cryderman was institutionalized, though I can find no record of this, nor of his death in Washington state. Further searches for Millard Cryderman in the newspapers turned up nothing.

However, census records tell us a bit more. In 1860, we find Millard H. Cryden [sic], age eight, living in Caledonia, Mich. His father Michael, 45, was a farmer born in Canada. His mother Charlotte, 30, was born in New York. Millard had six siblings: William, 14; Lovina, 12; Abigail, 10; Wilbert, 6; Sumner, 4; and Ellen, 1. William and Lovina were born in Canada, Abigail in New York, and the other children in Michigan.

The family’s appearance on the 1870 census in Georgetown, Mich. reveals … well, I’m not sure what. An absent-minded or drunken enumerator? Or a family that didn’t much care how you spelled their names? For now they are the Kruttermans. Michael is still farming. His wife’s name is given as Jane rather than Charlotte. Millard is listed as Milord, age 20, when he should be 18. No occupation is given for him. Wilbert is rendered as Wolbert, Sumner as Smiller, and William, who should now be 24, has somehow managed to remain 14. Ellen, who should be 11, is instead 17.

A family tree at brings the picture into better slightly focus: Michael G. Cryderman was born in Percy, Ont. and married Charlotte E. Wisner in 1846. He died in Petoskey, Mich. in 1894, age 77, having lived there for 13 years. His obituary said he moved to Michigan as a young man. Charlotte, who was born in Erie County, New York, died in 1907, just shy of 77. The family were Seventh-Day Adventists.

Of Millard’s siblings, several are ciphers like him. But Abigail married and had one child. She died in 1898. Lovina married and had three children. She died in 1915. Wilbert married and had two children (who used the spelling Criderman) but his date of death is unknown. Sumner (whose full name was Charles Sumner Cryderman) married and had two children. He died in 1930. Ellen married and had four children. She died in 1942.

None of which, I admit, gives us much more insight into Millard’s life, if he is in fact our M.D. Cryderman.

Updated on Aug. 13, 2020 to add Cryderman’s time in Butte; on Sept. 13, 2021 to add his time in Bonanza City; on Aug. 16, 2022 to add the Seattle directory listing of 1904; on Aug. 12, 2023 to add Cryderman’s time in Kalispell and Libby; and on Aug. 21, 2023 to add the full quote about the Burke comique; and on Feb. 28, 2024 to add the possible breakthrough.

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Excellent work as usual!

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Thank you Greg for another great article. I have often wondered who the artists were that painted the many signs and murals of Sandon. Many examples are preserved in historic photos but a handful of signs still exist. There was obviously some great talent back in the boom years. The last surviving mural was a product of an artists painting club during Sandon’s last revival in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. It was a full interior wall mural in the Tin Cup Cafe. Sadly, it was lost in the fire of 2008. I also remember a former friend, Tom Steenhoff, expressing his sadness of disposing the numerous hand painted canvas backdrops in the Miners Union Theatre whe…

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