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Secretary of state Diamond Eagle, circa 1890

Secretary of state Diamond Eagle, circa 1890. Designer: Unknown. Photography: John Bigelow Taylor

Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection

November 19, 2016January 29, 2017
Gallery F

Read My Pins presents a remarkable range of more than 200 pins and brooches from the personal collection of Madeleine Albright. The majority of these pieces were collected and worn during Albright’s service as US Ambassador to the United Nations (1993–1997) and as the first female Secretary of State (1997–2001), under President Bill Clinton. The assortment is eclectic, international, and representative of nearly a century of jewelry design. Yet the jewelry’s true interest lies not in their materials or monetary value but in the roles they played during her political service: Albright used her pins as silent yet visually outspoken codes to foreign officials and the press. Pins could be adopted for various reasons—a shining sun or a patriotic flag would reinforce a positive alliance with the United States, for example, while more difficult negotiations might bring out wasps or snakes.

Albright served the US government during a remarkable period in history, and many of the notable landmarks of her tenure can be decoded through the visual iconography of her pins. These pieces document and symbolize moments of political upheaval and also convey the patriotism of this Czechoslovakian-born diplomat. Whereas George H. W. Bush famously said “Read my lips” to convey a campaign promise, Albright encouraged, “Read my pins,” demonstrating that jewelry had become part of her personal diplomatic arsenal. These objects became delicate instruments with which she applied pressure during intense negotiations, and into which she invested humor as she represented the United States on the international stage.

This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Arts and Design.

This exhibition is being presented in San Francisco with appreciation to the following sponsors: Katie Albright and Jake Schatz, Dagmar Dolby, Ambassador James Hormel, Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis and Markos Kounalakis, Laura and Gary Lauder, Jillian Manus, Diane L. Morris, Diana Nelson and John, Atwater, Barbro and Bernard Osher, and the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund. Additional support is provided by the Susie Tompkins Buell Fund. Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by Bren Simon. Support for the catalogue has been provided by St. John Knits.