The Jewelry Insider

April 8, 2009

If Michelle Obama is ushering in a new era of power brooch diplomacy, she wouldn’t be the first. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a tenacious negotiator, loved to communicate her mood and intentions through her brooches, and now the Museum of Arts & Design in New York will exhibit 200 of her favorites.

Albright “found that what she wore and how she presented herself had a lot of interpretive meaning to those she was with,” said Holly Hotchner, the museum’s director. “The pins became an added way that she communicated as secretary of state.”

“Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection,” scheduled to open in September, comes 10 years after the museum presented “Brooching It Diplomatically,” a show of pins created by contemporary artists inspired by the ones Albright wore.

“She started acquiring pins because of their inherent messages, their whimsical and pictorial quality,” said David Revere McFadden, the museum’s chief curator. “It’s not about jewels and gems, it’s about jewelry as a communication device.”

The collection is diverse, ranging from Americana styles — including flags and eagles — to ones with flora, fauna and insect themes. She always brought a selection with her on her travels so she could be ready for any situation.

For instance, Albright chose to wear a bee pin whenever she felt talks amounted to “something like a sting,” McFadden said.

“It’s a very gentle way of saying to whomever she is speaking to: ‘Listen carefully because I’m kind of telling you where I think this conversation is going,”‘ he said.

When she thought negotiations would likely go well, she would wear a balloon pin. Another pin, made of stainless steel, shows the head of Lady Liberty with two watch faces for eyes, one of which is upside down. The pin allows both her and others to check the time.

I wonder how many times Albright said the word ‘pinhead’ during the Bush administration?

The exhibition, running from Sept. 30 though Jan. 31, 2010, will be accompanied by a book, “Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box,” written by Albright.

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