Read My Pins. The Madeleine Albright collection

9 Jun — 20 Jul 2014 at the Davis Museum in Wellesley, United States

14 MAY 2014
Madeleine Albright, Uncle Sam Top Hat and Eagle. Circa 1940. Trifari, USA. Photo by John Bigelow Taylor.
Madeleine Albright, Uncle Sam Top Hat and Eagle. Circa 1940. Trifari, USA. Photo by John Bigelow Taylor.

During her career, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Wellesley College class of 1959, famously used her jewelry to convey diplomatic messages. From June 9 through July 20, 2014, the Davis Museum will host the only New England presentation of the exhibition Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection, which reveals an intriguing story of American history and foreign policy as told through Secretary Albright’s jeweled pins.

“I am delighted to bring this collection to my alma mater,” said Madeleine Albright, who studied political science and has since launched the Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley. “Wellesley was one of the first places that gave me the opportunity to engage with global politics, develop my political views, and explore creative ways to express those views--so it’s only fitting to bring pins and politics back to Wellesley.”

On Monday, June 16 at 7pm, Secretary Albright will give a free talk and book signing at Wellesley. Read My Pins: a conversation with Madeleine Albright '59 and Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly will be held at the College’s Alumnae Hall.

In 1997, Albright was named the first female Secretary of State and became, at that time, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. While serving under President Bill Clinton, first as U.S ambassador to the United Nations, and then as Secretary of State, Albright became known for wearing brooches that purposefully conveyed her views about the situation at hand. “I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal” Secretary Albright has said. “While President George H.W. Bush had been known for saying ‘Read my lips,’ I began urging colleagues and reporters to ‘Read my pins.’"

Organized by the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, this unique traveling exhibition features more than 200 pins, many of which Secretary Albright wore to communicate a message or a mood during her diplomatic tenure. Sparkling with Albright’s wit and energy, the collection is notable for its historic significance as well as the expressive power of jewelry and its ability to communicate through a style and language of its own.

The collection that Secretary Albright cultivated is distinctive and democratic—sometimes demure and understated, sometimes outlandish and outspoken—spanning more than a century of jewelry design and including fascinating pieces from across the globe. The works on view are chosen for their symbolic value, and while some are fine antiques, many are costume jewelry. Together the pieces in this expressive collection explore the power of jewelry to communicate through a style and language of its own.

Over the years, Secretary Albright’s pins became a part of her public persona, and they chart the course of an extraordinary journey, carving out a visual path through international and cultural diplomacy. A highlight of the exhibition will be the brooch that began Secretary Albright’s unusual use of pins as a tool in her diplomatic arsenal. After Saddam Hussein’s governmentcontrolled press referred to her as a serpent in 1994, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Albright wore a golden snake brooch pinned to her suit for her next meeting on Iraq. Read My Pins will feature the famous snake brooch among many other pins with similar stories—some associated with important world events, others gifts from international leaders or valued friends.

The exhibition also showcases a group of Americana, which is at the center of the Madeleine Albright collection. One of her most original pieces is a pin made especially for her. The silver brooch shows the head of Lady Liberty with two watch faces for eyes, one of which is upside down—allowing both her and her visitor to see when it is time for an appointment to end. As demonstrated in this clever work, Read My Pins explores Albright’s ongoing impact on the field of jewelry design and collecting.