Mountain Majesty

Reflections on Kilimanjaro

Though its name suggests otherwise, Kilimanjaro Express, Terri Tufts' painting and photography exhibition at Mastroianni Arts, was not born on Africa's highest mountain. It took shape on a more modest slope closer to home: Brandywine Ski Resort's "Shredder" hill. In 2009, Tufts wiped out on the blue diamond and broke both her legs, laying her up for five months.

"I thought about things I wanted to do, and what I might not get a chance to do again," recalls the Cleveland Institute of Art graduate, whose interior design can be seen everywhere from the Allen Theatre to Mt. Zion Church to the area's Cheesecake Factory locations.

Although she beautifies the great indoors for a living, Tufts' passions gravitate outdoors. So when she recovered from her spill, she wanted to unite her love of mountain climbing with a lifelong desire to see Africa — never mind the nagging thoughts that she might be out of her mind.

An intense regimen of jogging and yoga prepared her for a six-day climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. But it wasn't until Tufts later sat down to interpret her experience that she realized the unimportance of the event everyone kept asking her about: reaching the summit. "It would have been a disappointment if I'd not made it," she says. "But when doing artwork, I realized how little the summit had to do with my art.

"What I remember is the feeling of the earth and the sky interacting. There were smells I couldn't represent, but also textures like rock and hay. It involved visceral, physical responses."

Tufts conveys this interaction in the collage "Serengeti Slideshow" (pictured), in which earth-sky visions are sliced up and interspersed with white painted patterns and animal forms in minimalist African style. Each piece exudes reverence for some aspect of Tanzania, from its landscapes and fauna to its local artistic traditions.

Tufts will talk about her experiences at Mastroianni Arts on Friday, April 27. A reception will start at 6:30 p.m. The exhibition is also viewable by appointment through April 30 at 2688 West 14th Street. Call 216-235-6936 or visit to learn more.

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