- Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
Balloons. Ladybugs. Eagles. Cherries.
You never know what Madeleine Albright might use to send a message.
Albright made headlines when she was sworn in as secretary of state in 1997, becoming the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government at the time, but during those four years as secretary of state under President Bill Clinton and in her time earlier as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she also gained attention for a more subtle display of power — using her diverse collection of pins and brooches to make statements about the events of the day.
Last month, Albright visited Austin to unveil the LBJ Presidential Library’s new special exhibition, “Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection,” which runs through Jan. 21.
“On good days, I wore flowers and butterflies and balloons,” Albright said while walking through the exhibit, “and on bad days, a lot of spiders and voracious animals.”
The exhibit showcases more than 200 of her statement pieces, which include everything from patriotic eagles and American flags to fruits and vegetables to homemade creations gifted to her by loved ones. Each pin is accompanied by a description of where and why Albright chose to wear it. Albright also released a book about her pins, “Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box,” in 2009.
“Naturally, not every diplomatic encounter demands a sunny attitude,” Albright is quoted as saying on the wall of the exhibit. “If I wanted to deliver a sharp message, I often wore a bee.”
Here’s a look at some of the pins you can see at the exhibit.
“Sometimes I’m asked what is my favorite pin, and this is my favorite pin,” said Albright, pointing to a piece that one of her three daughters, Katie, made for her when Katie was 5. Before the exhibit, Albright would wear the pin every Valentine’s Day. “For me it kind of shows how inanimate objects can really carry a lot of meaning,” she said. In the exhibit, the heart pin is paired with a trio of sailboat pins, one to represent each of her daughters. “The ships are beautiful, graceful and moving along at full sail, having long since left port,” the exhibit explains.
The serpent’s tale
While serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Albright criticized Saddam Hussein, whose poet-in-residence responded by calling her “an unparalleled serpent.” Soon after, when she met with Iraqi officials, Albright wore this snake pin. “The ambassadors go out and meet the press and all of the sudden a camera zeroes in and sees me with the snake pin,” she said. “(Reporters asked) ‘Why are you wearing that snake pin?’ I said, ‘Because Saddam Hussein compared me to an unparalleled serpent.’ Then, I thought, ‘Well, this is fun,’ so I went out and I bought a lot of costume jewelry to depict whatever I thought we were going to do on any given day.”
Read my pin
After Cuban fighter pilots shot down two unarmed civilian aircraft over international waters between Cuba and Florida on Feb. 24, 1996, Albright chose to wear this bluebird pin, head facing down. “It’s really a beautiful bird,” she said. “I decided to wear the pin with the head down in honor of the fallen civilian pilots that were piloting these planes over open waters.”
Secretary of state
Albright wore this patriotic pin when she was sworn in as secretary of state on Jan. 23, 1997. “It’s an antique pin that has a weird clasp on it,” Albright said. “I look over and the pin is just kind of flapping around. I thought, ‘It’s going to fall on the Bible!’”
During a negotiating trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, Albright wore this large American flag pin to emphasize her support of democratic values to leader Kim Jong-il. She also wore high heels to appear taller and, reportedly, so did he. “I really did love to wear pins that were patriotic, and I wore them as often as I could,” she said.