Oak Park has an unusual connection to the ongoing tsunami relief effort in Indonesia. Her name is Patti Joy Seery, and she is one of the foremost experts on Indonesian culture living in this country. Until two years ago when they moved to Arizona, Patti, her husband Doug and son Tresno lived on North Grove Avenue though Patti spent a good part of each year in Southeast Asia leading customized tours and cultivating cultural exchanges as president of a company called Indonesian Insights.
When last we spoke, in 1999, she called to tell us that six Asmat tribal leaders from New Guinea were camping in her living room. We interviewed two of them as they sat in the backyard carving "spirit boats." It was part of a five-week touring exhibit of tribal art titled, "Journey to Asmat."
Seery has a bachelor's in Architecture and Education from Montana State University and a master's in Southeast Asian Textiles from the University of Baroda in Gujerat, India. She is on the board of directors of the Indo-Pacific Conservation Alliance as well as the American Museum of Asmat Art.
As part of her tour business, Seery commissioned a ship that suited not only her customers, but also reflected ancient Buginese shipbuilding methods?#34;a kind of living history museum on the water. One of her primary investors, and a partner in the business enterprise, is Fred Pospisil, former Oak Park village trustee, who runs a small company called Access Philanthropy, which provides training and consulting services to non-profit organizations.
Pospisil met Seery when he was president of the Oak Park Area Arts Council some years back, and he recruited her to join the board. He took three trips to Indonesia through Seery's tour company, and decided to get involved in the boat project, which began in December 2001 and launched this past July.
The Silolona, a wooden-hulled vessel, is 145 feet long, 30 feet wide and weighs 450 tons, Pospisil said. It is double-masted, but also has a motor and holds 10 passengers and a crew of 12. Built by 90 local craftsmen, the ship has five air-conditioned staterooms and one lecturer's cabin.
When the tsunami struck, the Seery family was on the anchored Silolona, fortunately, on the northeast side of Phuket, Thailand, so they were unaffected by the surge. The day before, they were anchored off Amanpuri on the west coast where the beach got hit, but didn't cause any loss of life.
"We were very lucky and blessed," said Doug Seery from Arizona after he and Tresno returned home.
Patti, meanwhile, stayed behind and hooked up with Global Sikhs and Waves of Mercy, two humanitarian organizations, and became part of the relief effort. When last we heard, Patti and Silolona were transporting a group of doctors and 20 tons of supplies to Banda Aceh, one of the worst hit areas of Sumatra.
"The boat is our contribution for the short term," said Pospisil. "As for the long term, we're not sure."
Pospisil is planning to go over this month, so he'll get a chance to see for himself.
As for Seery's future plans, Pospisil says she's writing the catalog for an Indonesian textiles exhibit scheduled to open at the Art Institute in 2006.