Past Exhibitions

Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection

October 20, 2012 - January 6, 2013

The Albright collection consists of pins that Secretary Madeleine K. Albright, America's ambassador to the United Nations (1993-1997) and the first woman to occupy the position of U.S. Secretary of State (1997-2001), wore before, during and after her years of public service. Shortly after becoming a diplomat, Albright discovered the power of jewelry to convey a foreign policy message.

Before long, she began selecting appropriate pins to wear to particular meetings, visually expressing her high hopes, determination, impatience, or warm feelings. The brooches soon became her diplomatic signature.

The collection includes examples of fine art, but most are of the costume variety. Many are by anonymous designers and were selected for the signals they send and the spirit they convey. Sometimes demure and understated, sometimes outlandish and outspoken, these pins were used as gentle implements of statecraft. Their stories and messages reflect the Secretary's sense of humor and her humanity, and are shared here for the first time in a public museum setting.

Visit the Bowers Museum Store or shop online to purchase a copy of Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewelry Box.


Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection has been organized by the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Support for the original exhibition was provided by Bren Simon and for the exhibition catalogue by St. John Knits. Sponsored at the Bowers Museum by Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, East West Bank, and Mei-Yen Chang.

The exhibition examines the collection for its historic significance as well as the expressive power of jewelry and its ability to communicate through a style and language of its own.

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,” Secretary 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 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 are chosen for their symbolic value, and while some are fine antiques, many are costume jewelry. "Read My Pins" will explore the stories behind these works and their historical and artistic significance, and will be accompanied by a book, "Read My Pins": Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, published by HarperCollins. For information about ordering the catalog, please call The Store at 714.567.3613 or click here.

Over the years, Secretary Albright’s pins became a part of her public persona, and they chart the course of an extraordinary journey, carving out a visual path through international and cultural diplomacy. A highlight of the exhibition will be the brooch that began Secretary Albright’s unusual use of pins as a tool in her diplomatic arsenal. After Saddam Hussein’s press referred to her as a serpent, Secretary Albright wore a golden snake brooch pinned to her suit for her next meeting on Iraq. Read My Pins will feature the famous snake brooch among many other pins with similar stories-some associated with important world events, others gifts from international leaders or valued friends.

The exhibition will also showcase a group of Americana, which is at the center of the Madeleine Albright collection. One of her most original pieces is a pin made for her specifically on the occasion of “Brooching It Diplomatically.” The silver brooch 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 explores Albright’s ongoing impact on the field of jewelry design and collecting.


2002 North Main Street
Santa Ana, California 92706
TEL: 714.567.3600

Follow Us On

Bowers Hours

Tuesday - Sunday
10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Closed on:
Fourth of July
New Year's Day