Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says she had Saddam Hussein to thank for her exhibition “Read My Pins.” In an interview with the Smithsonian, Albright said that when she was Secretary of the U.N., she often said condemnatory things about Saddam Hussein, to which the Iraqi press called her an “unparalleled serpent.” The next time she held a press conference, she made sure to wear a decorative pin in the shape of a serpent. A journalist asked her about it, and a story was born; if you want to know what Madeleine Albright is saying, read her pins.
From then on, she communicated the tone of various meetings and situations through her exotic pins. When she met with Yassir Arafat, she said he felt “in a stinging mood, ” so she wore a bee pin. Better days meant balloons and flowers. Insect and wild animal pins were perfect for situations that required toughness. On display is a pin with the three “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” monkeys and Atlas holding up the globe.
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Albright said she found a striking eagle pin that seemed expensive, but bought it on the chance she would become Secretary of State. At her swearing in ceremony, she said the clasp was loose and he spent much of the time worrying if it would fall on the open Bible. Every Valentine’s Day, she wears a heart pin made by her daughter Katie at the age of 5.
Following Hurricane Katrina, on a visit to New Orleans, she met a World War II veteran who had been awarded two purple hearts. He presented Albright with a pin containing two purple amethysts that belonged to his wife who perished in the disaster and wanted to present it to her. While at first the former Secretary of State said she could not accept the gift, the veteran insisted she keep it in honor of his wife. Albright calls it the “Katrina Pin.”
Madeleine Albright’s father Josef Korbel was a press attache at the Czechoslovakian embassy in Belgrade. Although both he and his wife Anna had converted to Catholicism, they fled Hitler because of their Jewish roots and spent the war years in Great Britain.