Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Review- "Read My Pins" by Madeleine Albright

For the Etsy Team Aspiring Metalsmiths July Challenge, the theme was to create a piece of jewelry for a celebrity.  This seemed a daunting task since many celebrities sport jewelry that's stratospheric  in terms of materials and skill level.  But I did my due diligence using Google and found an interesting inspiration: Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State during the Clinton administration. She distinguished herself diplomatically by wearing pins that made a statement for whatever event, meeting, press conference, or speaking engagement she was involved in.  At first she was just a jewelry collector, specializing in pins because brooches were more comfortable and easier to wear than other types of adornment.  Then in October 1994, with Saddam Hussein nipping at our heels, Secretary Albright made the mistake of criticizing him for not complying with halting his weapons programs.  An anonymous poem was published in the Iraqi press that was  the equivalent of a school child's rant, but one phrase in that poem changed Madeleine's life forever.  The poet called her "an unparalleled serpent," to which most people would probably respond with an equally vicious remark.  But not Madeleine, no, she recalled a serpent brooch in her collection and thought that it would be an interesting piece to wear at a meeting with the Iraqis, but would anyone notice or care?  One press officer did and asked her why she wore that particular pin.  She said it was her way of sending a message.  Thus the legend is born.  From then on, Ms. Albright wore pins as a way of  making wordless statements about a cause she was promoting, a sentiment she had, an honor to a particular person or country, or a symbol of an event. 

The pictures in this book are astonishing- so many beautiful baubles.  When my husband saw the book he asked "How much are those things worth?"  It might surprise you that a woman of such power would have jewelry of very humble origins, but it's true.  Most of her pieces are costume jewelry, worth very little money and made of base metal and imitation stones. Yes she does have some high end pieces, made of gold and precious gems, as well as some handmade artisan pieces. But the value of these pieces goes beyond money- it's about what the shiny trinkets meant that was important.

There are so many examples in the book of the different pins she has worn and why, but I will mention a few here that are the most interesting:

Americana- her most extensive collection, used whenever she wanted to relay her proud feelings as an American (even though she is Czech-born, she became a naturalized citizen).

Turtles- worn when Madeleine was impatient with the slowness of negotiations

Crabs- when she was agitated

Ladybugs- worn when feeling happy

Hot air balloons- when she had high hopes

Owls- worn when wise action was needed

Spiders- when she was feeling devious

Bees- when she wanted to send a sharp message

Mushrooms-  "I have nothing to say at this time."

Pick up this book, based on a touring jewelry exhibition from The Museum of Art and Design in NYC (one of my favorite museums ever), if you love jewelry and what it can reveal about the wearer.  Right now the exhibition in in Washington, DC at the Smithsonian Castle.

Oh, and back to the challenge piece:  here is my pin dedicated to Madeleine Albright.  Sterling silver dove with  peridot eye:

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