NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As one of the world’s top diplomats, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had a unique way of communicating her moods and intentions — through her brooches, many of which are now on display in New York.
Her brooches may have been delicate and beautiful but they all came with a message, such as wearing a wasp pin to a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to deliver a tough message or a welcoming sun for South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
More than 200 brooches from Albright’s personal jewelry collection feature in an exhibition “Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection,” at Manhattan’s Museum of Arts and Design until January 2010.
Chief Curator David Revere McFadden said this was the first major exhibition of Albright’s jewelry and is filled with colorful pins worn when she was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997 and U.S. Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001.
“They were all chosen for this exhibition to reveal the way in which Secretary Albright used pins as a communication device to send messages to people, to give clues as to what she was thinking, what she was doing, what she hoped the outcome might be for some of her negotiations,” McFadden told Reuters Television.
Albright’s use of her jewelry as means of expression was born out of a conflict with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War in 1994 and is the subject of her recently released book, “Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box.”
When Albright criticized the Iraqi leader for failing to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, she was referred to in the government-controlled Iraqi press as “an unparalleled serpent.”
When she returned home she found a serpent brooch to wear on her next trip to Iraq — and from then on jewelry became part of her personal diplomatic arsenal.
Exhibit organizers said Albright’s use of her jewelry was sometimes understated, sometimes outlandish, but could be the ultimate expression of quiet diplomacy.
Albright would, for example, use a snail or a crab to show impatience with the pace of a discussion while spiders are known for their patience as well as their predatory nature, and dragonflies are associated with courage and strength.
Exhibit organizers said Albright is said to have worn the dragonfly when she wanted to keep her adversaries guessing as to what she was thinking.
Her pins feature an assortment of dragonflies, butterflies, spiders, flowers and other objects, and most are inexpensive.
“They are made from an extraordinary variety of materials. Secretary Albright doesn’t collect gold and diamonds and gems and rich pieces of jewelry, she collects ones that amuse her, that give her clues into different negotiations,” said McFadden.
“There are one or two treasures in the show by default, but basically, their value is not in what they are made of, it’s why they are made and why the Secretary chose them.”
Despite the serious nature of how the pin collection began, McFadden adds that the jewelry is not all serious.
“They also reflect her own sense of humor and whimsy, and that’s important to remember. These are not ponderous, serious pins. They are ones that she loved wearing,” McFadden said.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith