The exhibition of brooches from the personal collection of Madeleine Albright will open at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) on April 15, 2012. Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection features more than 200 pins, many of which Secretary Albright wore to communicate a message or a mood during her diplomatic tenure. The exhibition examines the collection for its historical ties as well as the expressive power of jewelry and its ability to communicate through a language of its own. The exhibition will be on view in the museum’s Gallagher Family Gallery through June 17, 2012.
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,” 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.’”
“The power of design is demonstrated in this exhibition that ties beautiful objects together with an influential message,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the Denver Art Museum. “Some pieces are pure costume, others are family heirlooms or hand-crafted treasures. Each has a unique story to convey about Albright and her time as U.N. Ambassador and as the first woman U.S. Secretary of State.”
Heinrich notes that the collection will have special significance to the Denver audience. After being granted political asylum in the United States due to the Communist takeover in their native Czechoslovakia, Albright’s family moved to Denver in the summer of 1949 and her father, Josef Korbel, was invited to teach in the department of international affairs at the University of Denver. In 1964, Korbel founded and became the first dean of the University of Denver Graduate School of International Studies—which in 2008 was renamed the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
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 exhibit explores the stories behind these works and their historical and symbolic significance and is accompanied by a book, Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box (2009), published by HarperCollins and available in the Museum Shop. Serpent, designer unknown (U.S.A.), circa 1860.Photo by John Bigelow Taylor. “As the first woman to become America’s top diplomat, Albright utilized her jewelry to send a strong message,” said Melora McDermott-Lewis, Director of Education at the DAM. “Each pin has a unique story that our visitors can explore to learn a small piece of history.”
Over the years, Albright’s pins became a part of her public persona, carving out a visual path through international and cultural diplomacy. A highlight of the exhibition will be the brooch that started it all. After the Gulf War, Albright angered Saddam Hussein by criticizing his refusal to cooperate with weapons inspectors. After a poem appeared in the government-controlled Iraqi press referring to her as an “unparalleled serpent,” Albright wore a golden snake pinned to her suit to her next meeting on Iraq. The pin was a success, inspiring her to use her jewelry as a diplomatic tool. Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection will feature the famous serpent pin alongside many other pins with similar stories—some associated with important world events, others gifts from international leaders or close friends.
The exhibition will also showcase a group of Americana pins, which are the heart of the Albright collection. One of her most original pieces is a silver pin that 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: The Madeleine Albright Collection explores Albright’s ongoing impact on the field of jewelry collecting.