Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s brooches were recently on display at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the University of Texas campus and I’m pleased to provide a brief review. “Madam Secretary,” as we call her in the news game, chose for the exhibit some 200 pieces from her personal collection, and it has been traveling this great nation for the past 9 years, finally coming to a close on January 21.
Admittedly, I don’t know a brooch from a pin, but admission was free on MLK Day, so I figured I’d check it out before it left Austin and goes on permanent display at the U.S. Diplomacy Center in Washington, D.C.
“Shortly after becoming a diplomat, Madeleine Albright discovered the power of jewelry to convey a foreign policy message,” the exhibit’s website says. No wonder she was appointed Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service!
“Pins of the People,” she calls them. “Pins of a rich old lady,” I call them.
According to the prestigious Museum of Arts and Design, Madam’s gaudy brooches do have artistic merit:
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 works on view were chosen for their symbolic value, and while some are fine antiques, many are costume jewelry.
“Naturally, not every diplomatic encounter deserves a sunny attitude,” Madam explains. “If I wanted to deliver a sharp message, I often wore a bee.”
A bee brooch made of 14k pink gold, silver, enamel, diamonds, and garnets, to be exact, which is the one she wore to her meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The caption says: “As secretary of state, Albright spent many hours wrangling with the Palestinian leader on the need for compromise in the Middle East.” Translation from Newspeak: The compromises he had been making for years which the U.S. rejected.
Then there was her trip to North Korea, where she had a height contest with Kim Jong Il, father of “Rocket Man” Kim Jong Un, and son of the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung – aka the “supreme brain of the nation” and “hero of the 20th century.”
In no country are pins more crucial and less decorative than in North Korea. Every North Korean is required to wear an image of the country’s founder … On a negotiating trip to Pyongyang, Albright dramatized her support for democratic values by wearing her American flag pin. Standing next to North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-Il, she wore high heels to appear taller; so did he.
As you can see if you look closely at the snap above, Kim Jong Il succeeded in being taller than Madam. But she took the prize for biggest brooch, with her American flag made of gold-plated base metal, glass beads, and rhinestones.
Elsewhere in the exhibit room, seemingly unrelated to politics, was a display case showcasing Madam’s love of jazz.
As Frank Zappa once said: “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.” And Madam has a bunch of pins to help keep it that way.
Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell served as co-chair for the twentieth anniversary celebration of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which sends musical ambassadors around the world. For the occasion, Albright managed to assemble the instruments for almost an entire jazz band on her shoulder.
At the Monk Institute confab, she “spoke about jazz’s influence during Soviet rule in her birthplace, Czechoslovakia, and its relevance for cultural diplomacy today,” the Blouin Artinfo website notes.
While I’m glad Madam is into Monk and the other hepcats of jazz, I only wish she’d given the music a little more hypo when she was a diplomat.
So, what’s my overall review of the brooch exhib?
Well, as mentioned, it was free. And as Madam famously said when asked about her role in the death-by-sanctions of a half million children in Iraq, “the price is worth it.”