The Madeline Albright Collection comes to Truman Libary.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has traversed the globe with a wink, a smile, a razor-edged wit, an even sharper intelligence to talk to world leaders all while wearing small pieces of wearable art. In the beginning, Albright’s pins were merely accessories, but after her 1994 tag by the Saddam Hussein’s government-controlled press called her an “unparalleled serpent.” At this time, she was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. At her next meeting on the subject of Iraq, Albright wore a golden snake brooch, beginning a career-long practice of using jewelry to convey and reinforce diplomatic messages.

During her career in public service, Albright famously used her jewelry to communicate diplomatic messages. Now through February 22, the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum presents the exhibition Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection, which reveals an intriguing story of American history and foreign policy as told through more than 200 of Dr. Albright’s jeweled pins collected or gifted to her over about 20 years.

“It was a game for the most part in selecting the pins,” she says. “It would depend on the situation. When we were seeking support, I would wear lots of American flags and eagles. I suppose with some, there was forethought.” Eventually staffers and other dignitaries could quickly gauge Albright’s mood, depending on the pin of the day. If it happened to be butterflies, conversations and the like would be cheery. However, if the pin was an insect, negotiations and other talks might be a bit grave.

Visitors immediately see the serpent pin, the blue bird pin that she used in helping condemn the actions of four Cuban-Americans shot down off the coast of Florida and the antique eagle brooch she wore when she was sworn in as Secretary of State. As a matter of fact, her first trip as Secretary of State was to Texas and she was greeted by President George H.W. Bush. “He was famous for ‘Read my lips.’ I began urging colleagues and reporters to ‘Read my pins.’ It stuck and also resonates with my sense of humor.” The pins are also educational. “They are a place to start a discussion about what the U.S. role is within this world. We live in an interdependent world and we can talk about what role the United States should play. We are an indispensable nation in the definition that we need to be engaged. It is simply necessary.”

Some of the outstanding pins include Breaking the Glass Ceiling by Vivian Shimoyama, fitting for the first woman to hold the job of Secretary of State. There are turtle pins that she wore during Mideast peace talks. “Turtles are slow and deliberate creatures, much like the talks,” she explains.

One pin she wishes she had back from the collection is called Ode to U.S. Armed Forces by Mina Lyles. The pin is a composition of emblems representing the various armed forces. “I have spent many hours with veterans and I know this piece would help express my way to honor them even more. I have been to Walter Reed Hospital many times, including many visits to the MusiCorps program.”

She’s also got many jazz instrument pins. “Sometimes I wear many of them together … it’s a jazz band on the jacket. I love jazz. I am a supporter of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Colin Powell and I served as the co-chairs for the institute’s 20th anniversary. The institute also sends out musical ambassadors around the world.” In 2012, the 25th annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and “Women, Music and Diplomacy” All-Star Gala Concert honored Albright with the Institute’s 2012 Maria Fisher Founder’s Award. In the spirit of the evening, Albright took her place behind the drums and performed a moving rendition of Nessun Dorma with Chris Botti and George Duke.

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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