Who knew that pins—from $3 thrift-store finds to the diamond-encrusted heirloom variety—could say so much, intrigue so many, and make such an impact upon modern American history? Madeleine Albright, that's who.
Albright wore the monkeys on a visit to Moscow while meeting with President Putin. In her memoir, she says "he saw no evil" and denied human rights violations occurred. By Iradj Moini, 2000.
This pin reflects the glass ceiling in Albright's ideal condition: shattered. It was most recently seen at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. By Vivian Shimoyama, 1992.
When jewelers were invited to create pins for Secretary Albright, designer Gijs Bakker sent Liberty (1997). The clocks are arranged so both wearer and others can read the clock simultaneously. (All images courtesy of John Bigelow Taylor for Legion of Honor.)
During her tenure, Secretary Albright supported a diplomatic initiative to ensure much-coveted stones were traded legitimately. Panther by Cartier, circa 2003.
In 1996, planes carrying Cuban-American fliers were shot down. At a press event, the Secretary wore the Blue Bird with its head pointing down to mourn the victims. By Anton Lachmann, circa 1880.
Albright wore the Serpent to meet with Iraqi officials in fall '94. It was her way of sending a message after being called an "unparalleled serpent" in the Iraqi press. Designer unknown, circa 1860.
Worn by Albright in 1997 during her oath of office as the first female U.S. Secretary of State. The patriotic Secretary of State Diamond Eagle was made circa 1890, designer unknown.
Jewelry lovers and Albright super fans will come to understand the power of pins with purpose after a whirl through this Legion of Honor exhibit displaying some of the more statement-making brooches worn by Albright during her service as U.S. Ambassador to the UN (1993–1997) and as the first female Secretary of State (1997–2001).
Albright is well known to have communicated in meetings with diplomats and world leaders through her brooches: A bumblebee pin meant Watch out, I might sting!, while a dove indicated a desire for peace. The more subtle the brooch, the more it and its placement were subject to scrutiny and speculation about Albright's mood du jour.
Truth be told, it was a snake pin that got the ball rolling on Albright's diplomatic signature. After criticizing Saddam Hussein in 1994, the Iraqi poet-in-residence famously referred to her as "an unparalleled serpent." Soon after, the UN Ambassador met with Iraqi officials and, wouldn't you know it, was sporting a very chic gold viper on her lapel. (Don't tread on her, indeed.)
The nonlinear exhibit is fun, fascinating, and educational at once. More than 200 pins are grouped by category—there are flowers and lions, stars and stripes, the Old West, and even hearts and jazz—and coupled with photographs and words on the historical context. Look out for the Glass Ceiling pin that Albright wore the night Hillary Clinton became the first woman to accept the nomination for President of the United States.
Pin ya later… // Ends Sunday Jan. 29, 2017; Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave (Sea Cliff), legionofhonor.famsf.org