Meet the AHA Staff: Jan Melchior

Please welcome the newest addition to the American Humanist Association staff, Jan Melchior, graphic designer! What is your educational and work background? 

I am a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York. Mine was one of the last classes to learn the graphic design trade using a drafting table, a t-square, a triangle, and an X-Acto knife.  I am so glad we use computers now, although there is something to be said about learning traditional skills. I began my career in publishing. My claim to fame is that I designed the Martha Stewart Wedding Planner during the time I planned my own wedding. From publishing, I moved into pharmaceutical publishing and marketing and from there into development work with not-for-profits. I have spent numerous years of my career working as a consultant or an independent contractor. I’m thrilled to be full-time in an office both because the rhythm suits me and for the pleasure of working with other skilled professionals. What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association? 

I happened upon the graphic designer position at the American Humanist Association as I was beginning to look for positions in the DC area for both professional and family reasons. After exploring the website and reading the FAQs, I was amazed at how much the organization echoed my own philosophical thinking. It was as if I had written the site myself (perhaps not quite so articulately). The position looking to be filled was an excellent match to my skills, and it seemed a wonderful fit. Did you grow up in a particular religious tradition? What was the experience like for you?

I was raised a Quaker in a family of many generations of Quakers. Quakerism is a very personal, individual way to approach “worship,” one without many supernatural beliefs and little or no ritual practices. My father was a self-proclaimed agnostic, and my mother didn’t really speak about her beliefs. My religious experience was mostly silent meeting for worship, a gathering of Quakers who sit together in a meeting house in meditative silence and occasionally get up to say something when the “spirit” moves them. For me as a child, it was pretty much torture sitting still for that long.

As I grew older and was introduced to the religious practices of friends, I was very surprised—shocked in fact by all these wonderful smart, regular people, including grown-ups, with these supernatural beliefs and strict, odd magical things like holy water, priests in funny outfits swinging incense around the room, crackers made of a human body, and so on. It totally freaked me out. Now I understand a little better about traditions and how people are raised—but it still freaks me out. Have you read any good books lately? What’s your favorite book?

I read all the time. I love a good mystery. I love good fiction. Two recent great reads: Carthage: A Novel by Joyce Carol Oates and The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow. If you could have dinner with any three people (living or dead), who would they be and why? 

  1. I’d love to sit in a safe spot with Genghis Khan and get the real story of his experiences and beliefs.
  2. William Shakespeare. I want to know about his process and what he did and did not write.
  3. Martin Scorsese. His films served as the background to my twenties, and I would love to discuss those times with him and his point of view looking back from now.