When Madeleine Albright wears her pins the question is not “what’s the story?” Her audience asks “what message is she trying to convey?”
It all started with Saddam Hussein in 1994 when in response to her criticism of his invasion in Kuwait the Iraqi press wrote “To Albright, Albright, all right, all right, you are the worst in this night—an unmatched clamor-maker and an unparalleled serpent.” Soon after the poem was published she was scheduled to meet with the Iraqi officials. Most women would ponder about what suit to wear—but Madeline was thinking about the unusual snake pin she had purchased at an antique store. As her pin was viewed by the world, she simply smiled and said “it was my way of sending a message.”
In the bucolic suburbs of Boston in 1955, a young Madeleine entered Wellesley College wearing Bermuda shorts and a sky-blue enameled circle pin on her Shetland cashmere sweater. Her passion for learning and her personal style became famous– her circle pin may have been her ‘lucky charm.’ Madeleine Albright served as United States Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001 and as United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997. No other woman has held the position of Secretary of State and appropriately her new found pin was an abstract bar with broken glass called ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling.’
Ladybugs bring smiles to everyone and Madeleine often wore her ladybug pins for smiles–she wore hot air balloon pins for high hopes, a tranquil swan, peaceful doves and the wise owl conveyed messages clearly. In Greek Mythology Atlas holds up the Earth, with the frustrations of the Middle East diplomacy, Madeleine often felt that she had the weight of the world as she worked diligently. For important meetings she wore a pin of Atlas holding up the Earth to remind her colleagues that “collectively, we had the weight of the world on our shoulders.” Madeleine has an impressive collection of turtle pins to signify her impatience when negotiations went too slow and wore a lifelike crab when aggravated.
North Koreans are required to wear a pin with the image of Kim Il-Sung and are taught that Americans are evil. In meeting in North Korea in 2000, Madeleine relayed a strong message to the North Korean people, she wore a bold and the largest American flag pin she could find in her jewel box for the photos-large enough to ‘read my pin’ that their leader was hosting an American.
The famous boxer Muhammad Ali would say, “I will float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” As a successful diplomat, Madeleine used this motto when she wore her bee pins as she delivered sharp messages while maintaining her diplomacy. And in conveying a five hundred year old Japanese message about accepting responsibility for wrongful thoughts and actions she wears the carvings of Kikazaru, ‘hear no evil’ monkey, Iwazaru, ‘speak no evil’ monkey and Mizaru, ‘see no evil’ monkey—these carvings are above the door of the seventeenth century Toshogu shrine in Nikko, Japan. The press caught a great photo of Madeleine, President Clinton and Defense Secretary Cohen acting as the ‘three monkeys.’
Madeleine wore her ‘see, hear and speak no evil’ monkey pins when she met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to express her concerns about human rights in Chechnya. He didn’t agree with the Madeleine, but he did get the message of the three monkeys and later on told President Clinton that he checked Madeleine’s pins at every meeting. During the discussions involving nuclear arms Putin remarked about her arrow pin and asked if that is one of the U.S. interceptor missiles, she quickly retorted “Yes, and as you can see, we know how to make them very small. So you’d better be ready to negotiate.”
A large Zebra pin sits on top of her shoulder with the two smaller Zebras on her lapel depicting a small herd when she met with Nelson Mandela in 1997 in South Africa. The concerned expressions on their faces are contrasted by the whimsical Zebras, showing both sides of Madeleine and Mandela’s genius, humor and serious human rights advocates.
As a collector of Americana pins, Madeleine says that she has enough eagles to comprise a flock! On the day of the announcement by President Clinton nominating her as sixty-fourth Secretary of State in 1996 Madeleine wore a large Eagle pin clipped in the center of her pearl strand, the eagle held a pearl in its claws. January 20, 2001 was the last day that Madeleine Albright was Secretary of the State and on her final day she chose to wear the Trailing Eagle pin for the official cabinet photo.
Madeleine was effective in sending her diplomatic messages to the leaders of the world, but didn’t realize how attentive the American public was ‘reading her pins’ until after she was out of office. When preparing to speak in Las Vegas to executives in the travel industry she was asked what pin she intended to wear. Without a pin in her travel case, Madeleine rushed out to shop for the appropriate jewel. Since that time, Madeleine always wears a pin in public—as the states “its part of the package.” She even pinned an entire jazz band of individual instruments on her jacket to wear at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz for the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to Stevie Wonder.
Helen W. Drutt English, an authority on modern crafts honored Madeleine by inviting jewelers from around the world to create pins with a message of peace, justice and human rights. Sixty artists from sixteen countries contributed their work which was on display throughout the United States and Europe. Hosted by the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 1999, the exhibit was called “Brooching It Diplomatically: A Tribute to Madeleine Albright.” Gijs Bakker of the Netherlands created a Lady Liberty pin with two small clocks for the eyes in opposing directions, enabling Madeleine to glance down at one clock and her visitor to view the other clock—as a true diplomat would say ‘to know when the meeting is over.’
“I was fortunate to serve at a time and in a place that allowed me to experiment by using pins to communicate a diplomatic message. One might scoff and say that my pins didn’t exactly shake the world. To that I can reply only that shaking the world is precisely the opposite of what diplomats are placed on Earth to do.” Madeleine Albright
Her collection of more than two hundred pins which she wore during her diplomatic tenure is currently on tour in the United States.
Written by Janet Deleuse, All rights reserved, please give credit
All photos and information based on ‘Read My Pins, Stories From A Diplomat’s Jewel Box’ By Madeleine Albright
Read My Pins presents a remarkable range of more than 200 pins and brooches from the personal collection of Madeleine Albright. The majority of these pieces were collected and worn during Albright’s service as US Ambassador to the United Nations (1993–1997) and as the first female Secretary of State (1997–2001), under President Bill Clinton. The assortment is eclectic, international, and representative of nearly a century of jewelry design. Yet the jewelry’s true interest lies not in their materials or monetary value but in the roles they played during her political service: Albright used her pins as silent yet visually outspoken codes to foreign officials and the press. Pins could be adopted for various reasons—a shining sun or a patriotic flag would reinforce a positive alliance with the United States, for example, while more difficult negotiations might bring out wasps or snakes.
Albright served the US government during a remarkable period in history, and many of the notable landmarks of her tenure can be decoded through the visual iconography of her pins. These pieces document and symbolize moments of political upheaval and also convey the patriotism of this Czechoslovakian-born diplomat. Whereas George H. W. Bush famously said “Read my lips” to convey a campaign promise, Albright encouraged, “Read my pins,” demonstrating that jewelry had become part of her personal diplomatic arsenal. These objects became delicate instruments with which she applied pressure during intense negotiations, and into which she invested humor as she represented the United States on the international stage.
Madeleine Albright’s pin collection will be at the San Francisco Legion of Honor Museum, November 19, 2016