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Madeleine Albright: Read My Pins

As a diplomat, Albright enlisted her jewelry to send signals – some more pointed than others.

By Carol StricklandContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / October 9, 2009

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks at United Nations headquarters for the launch of the report of the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, June 3, 2008.

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Most people's jewelry just says "bling." Not former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's gems. For a meeting with Yasser Arafat, the message of Ms. Albright's brooch – a two-inch-long gold bee with diamond-studded wings and garnet eyes – was "sting."

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"I spent many hours wrangling with the Palestinian leader about the need for compromise in the Middle East," she writes in her book, "Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat's Jewel Box" (HarperCollins, 2009). "My pin reflected my mood."

More than 200 pins are displayed at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York through Jan. 31 in an exhibition titled "Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection." The show will travel through 2010 to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., as well as to venues in Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis, Ind.

In introducing her collection, Ms. Albright, reminisced about the origin of her strategically deployed ornaments. "I clearly have always liked jewelry, but it had not occurred to me that they could, in fact, become part of diplomacy. It all began with Saddam Hussein."

As ambassador to the United Nations in 1994, she pressed Mr. Hussein to allow weapons inspections, causing an Iraqi newspaper to label her "an unparalleled serpent." After a meeting on Iraq, "a gaggle of journalists" saw Ms. Albright sporting a menacing gold snake pin. When asked why, she answered, "because Saddam Hussein called me a serpent."

After that, whenever journalists or colleagues asked her mood or what was on her agenda, she modified President George H.W. Bush's "Read my lips" quip into "Read my pins." "If we were going to do happy things or something pleasant, I'd wear flowers and butterflies and balloons," she says. "On bad days I wore various bugs and weapons. It obviously became a signaling process."

Albright says she's pleased her collection is characterized by museum curator David McFadden as " 'small-d' democratic." Although it includes some antiques and costly materials, most of the pieces are costume jewelry, chosen for their symbolism.

For a 1999 summit with the Russians, the secretary wore a pin of the three wise monkeys with their hands clapped over eyes, ears, and mouth in classic poses to telegraph see, hear, and speak no evil. Albright explains: "I wore those because I disagreed with what they were doing in Chechnya. They would not admit to any human rights abuses."

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