Mint Museum’s exhibit of Madeleine Albright’s pin collection features diplomacy by jewelry

06/22/2012 12:00 AM

07/25/2012 7:29 PM

If former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ever decides to give up her lifelong career in foreign diplomacy, she may have a bright future as a stand-up comedian.

Albright cracked a few jokes for the small crowd gathered at The Mint Museum this past February. She shared several humorous back-stories about how she used jewelry in her diplomatic arsenal, notably her legendary pins and brooches, to send pointed and unmistakable messages to the likes of Saddam Hussein and other foreign leaders during her service as the nation’s top diplomat.

Albright previewed her upcoming exhibit at the Mint, “Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection,” which will open on June 30.

Her visit to Charlotte coincided with an advance trip in preparation for her role as chair of the National Democratic Institute in hosting the International Leaders Forum. At every Democratic National Convention since 1984, a group of foreign leaders and policy makers have visited as a way to observe the convention process and participate in a series of bipartisan panel discussions on the U.S. political process.

Albright, served as the 64th Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration and was the first woman to hold that position.

The pin that started it all in 1997 was Albright’s antique snake pin.

“I was sent to Iraq to meet with Hussein after the Gulf War,” Albright recalled. “He was particularly tough on me through the press and at the time called me an ‘unparalleled serpent.’ I wanted to send a signal of exactly how I felt and this pin was perfect. He clearly noticed and after that incident I thought I might be onto something.”

What happened next was Albright amassing a collection of more than 200 pins, mostly costume jewelry she wore throughout of her tenure. Her pins often got as much attention as she did and the notoriety was something she worked to her advantage.

“They were often ice breakers and a way I could use to break the tension in some difficult situations,” she said.

Albright’s collection along with her stories became the basis for her book “Read My Pins” released in 2009 by Harper Collins. The term is a play on the famous George H. W. Bush campaign quote, “Read my lips.”

The Museum of Art and Design in New York established the exhibit of Albright’s pins. The exhibit will be on display through the Democratic National Convention, and Albright plans to return to the Mint in July.

Albright’s story of the South Korean diplomat received the largest laugh of the day.

“I was approached by a member of the South Korean media who wanted to know if I was offended by a remark made by one of their diplomats,” said Albright. “He was quoted as saying he loved when I visited because he got to hug me and that he enjoyed my ample chest,” Albright said. “I said absolutely not, that I had to have something there to hold up my pins.”

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