Madeleine Albright’s collection of brooches, now at the LBJ Library through January, shows the power of the pin.
After touring for nine years at 22 museums, the Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection exhibit made its final stop in late October at the LBJ Presidential Library, where the former secretary of state’s dynamic collection of more than 200 pins and brooches will be on display through Jan. 21. The charming Albright, who also wrote a companion book, Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, spoke to Austin Way about the exhibit, LBJ, Russian spies—and even Robert Redford.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE LBJ LIBRARY BEING THE TOUR’S FINAL STOP? I am delighted with the choice because I have admired all the things LBJ did and have understood the complex situations he inherited, and his determination to do the right thing in terms of the greater society. I am a very proud and grateful American, having come to the United States as an immigrant, and some of the things President Johnson did were so respectful of people of diverse backgrounds. It’s very interesting, since this [exhibit] is just coming from the Reagan library, that it really has been a bipartisan presidential library tour.
IN READ MY PINS, YOU WRITE ABOUT THE CURATORS COMING TO YOUR HOUSE, SPREADING ALL YOUR PINS OUT AND DECIDING WHICH WOULD MAKE THE CUT. WHAT WAS THAT PROCESS LIKE? I didn’t realize I had so many of them. We just laid out a sheet and put them all out there by color, and then we decided it made more sense to organize them by species. The truth is that, no matter how you organized them, [together] they looked kind of like a big abstract painting.
DO YOU MISS YOUR PINS? What has happened, I tell you, is that I now have a whole, huge collection of pins that I call my pity pins because they’ve been given to me by people who feel sorry for me not having my original ones.
YOU’RE FAMOUS FOR USING JEWELRY AS A DIPLOMATIC TOOL, A WAY TO COMMUNICATE WARMTH AND, WHEN NEED BE, SHARPER MESSAGES TO FOREIGN MINISTERS. CAN YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE? When I was secretary of state, [we found out that] the Russians were bugging the State Department. The bug was in an office not far away from mine. When we found the guy [who was] sitting outside listening to us, we did what diplomats do, which is send a démarche, or kind of a complaint, to Moscow. But the next time I met with Foreign Minister [Yevgeny] Primakov, I wore this huge bug, and he knew exactly what was going on.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A MESSAGING MISHAP? A couple days ago, I wore a new pin, a kind of enameled dagger, that I got in the country of Georgia. I was doing a political event later in the day, and I meant to wear my donkeys, but instead I had this dagger on, so I was trying to figure out how [to explain that]. So it turned a little political.
IN NOVEMBER, ROBERT REDFORD IS PRESENTING YOU WITH THE PORTRAIT OF A NATION PRIZE AT THE SMITHSONIAN’S AMERICAN PORTRAIT GALA. DO YOU KNOW WHAT PIN YOU’RE GOING TO WEAR? I think a big heart. I’ve been in love with him forever.