Joel Gundlach named CCAD Professor Emeritus

joel gundlach with student

At Columbus College of Art & Design, we often use the phrase “CCAD family” to describe the constellation of students, alumni, faculty, staff, graduates, board members, donors, and others who are an integral part of the college.

For Industrial Design and Interior Architecture & Design Professor Joel Gundlach, who retires at the end of the 2020–2021 academic year, the term is especially personal. After all, Gundlach not only worked as a faculty member for more than 30 years, CCAD also is the place where he earned his BFA—and it’s where he met his now-wife of 33 years, Tina, on the first day of fall semester, 1983. Back then, Gundlach was a transfer student studying Industrial Design; she was a first-year student in Advertising & Graphic Design and lived in the apartment above his. The two “instantly made a connection and have been together ever since,” Gundlach says. They have two daughters: Carly, 27, is a veterinarian in the Dayton area; Riley, 25, teaches elementary school. 

A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Gundlach grew up in a family of, as he describes it, “two amazing parents, one sister, and three very close brothers who are all in design.” He came to CCAD to study Industrial Design at a time when the field was barely in the public eye, and at a time when much of the design work Industrial Design students tackled was done by hand, rather than by computer.

Recalls Gundlach, “My senior year at CCAD was really the last year that computers were not an integral part of life as we know it today. Everything was done by hand. We all had fantastic hand skills and as I like to say, we had a great ‘sensitivity to touch.’ The digital world is so ingrained into the process of design, I feel we have lost some of those early hand skills.” 

After a few years of work in the field of industrial design, Gundlach returned to his alma mater in 1989. Tom Gattis, Dean of Undergraduate Studies and a fellow Industrial Design professor at CCAD, estimates that Gundlach has taught 240 classes over his tenure, impacting close to 3,000 students. “Each of those students is better for the experience,” he says.

Gundlach says he will miss fellow CCAD faculty and students, “But I think I will miss the act of teaching the most. I have been an educator for most of my adult life. It is hard to turn it off even in the most casual of moments. I will need to figure out how to get a teaching fix, somewhere somehow.”

An instructor dedicated to student success

This time at CCAD “has been a great ride,” says Gundlach. “I have taught students that have become lifelong friends. I have fellow faculty that became family. To do it all over again, I would choose the same path. I am so grateful for the love and support of the people around me. Most of all, I am thankful for the opportunity to have guided so many students down the path of design. I’d like to think I have affected a few along the way.”

It’s clear that he has. Upon his retirement, Gundlach was named Professor Emeritus in recognition of his contributions to CCAD. Gundlach, says Gattis, “has forever set the standard for a compassionate, caring teacher dedicated to student success.”

“When you walk through campus and see Joel teaching, he is always smiling,” Provost Julie Taggart says. “He is clearly enjoying his work and that impacts his students. His positivity pours out of him. Joel won the Teaching Excellence Award in 2016 and he continues to be nominated by his students year after year. I expect that Joel will stay connected with CCAD in retirement as Professor Emeritus.”

Interior Architecture & Design Chair Kelly DeVore says this of Gundlach: “Joel has the unique ability to inspire to do, by aspiring to be, all without leading with his ego. It is pure, honest, and somehow still filled with wonder. His delight in sketching and building and teaching or whatever he is doing, is infectious. There is not a conversation with him that is without a pencil in hand, or an idea on how to make something better. Joel has the biggest heart and greatest energy—the students and his colleagues will miss his enthusiasm more than he will ever know.”

Industrial Design Professor David Burghy first met Gundlach as a fellow CCAD undergraduate. He says Gundlach has been a great mentor and friend in the decades since. Recalls Burghy, “Joel began teaching at CCAD right before I did. His willingness to share his classroom experiences with me helped make me the teacher that I am. That sharing has continued for the past 30 years. Rarely does a week pass that we are not talking with each other about what we have done in the classroom or shop (both in success and failure)." 

“Joel is an amazing designer and craftsman. It is always fun to see how he lights up when a student asks for his help with something that they are doing. Joel will be hard to replace—his energy and commitment to the students have set a standard that will be difficult to match,” says Industrial Design Chair Greg Thune.

The CCAD family feeling

Much has changed since Gundlach first set foot on CCAD’s campus in downtown Columbus. But he expects one thing won’t: “I think the one thing that will always remain consistent is the CCAD family feeling,” he says. “You get to know everyone. And the intensity of the work will never change, no matter the platform.”

Below, Gundlach reflects more on his time at CCAD and what’s up next.

On CCAD students now and then

Students come from a very different place these days. Much of my teaching is about hand skills and good craft. There are very few students that come to school growing up with exposure to these skills. It's getting less and less as the years tick by. My favorite part of teaching is still showing someone a hand or shop skill for the first time. It's something they can use for the rest of their lives.

Their eagerness to learn and to challenge themselves is always present. It’s easy to think that our classrooms are a little microcosm of normal thinking. This could not be further from the truth. There is nothing normal about the minds of a young designer. CCAD is a very special place indeed. I try to remind myself of that every time I enter the classroom. Knowing that this is my last semester, I have found myself thinking about that with every student conversation. 

On CCAD’s continuing partnerships with Airstream

I have had the honor of being involved with Airstream every spring for the last seven years, from the very first “work/live” Airstream to the most recent "small camper" this spring. It’s humbling to think that well over a 100 students have been exposed to a local icon. Seeing how middle America manufacturing has changed the camping world. Past projects saw the redesign of several campers, a historical center, an online presence, and more. It has been an amazing ride, getting to know the special people at Airstream.

On the Cardboard Regatta at Camp Gundlach

Back in the day, one of the Industrial Design department highlights was a project that ended the year, the “Cardboard Regatta” held at Camp Gundlach. It was a celebration and competition among sophomore Industrial Design students racing their cardboard boats that was filled with fun and laughter for the entire department. 


joel gundlach with student and airstream


joel gundlach with student


On the joys of teaching

Teaching drawing has been a mainstay of mine for the last 30 years. Helping young designers with the power to think on paper. Man, that makes me happy. It's a lifelong skill they will use every time they think.

On Interior Architecture & Design vs. Industrial Design

Even though I started out as an industrial designer, I much prefer the big scale of interior architecture and design. I like designing useful spaces and furniture that will be around for decades. I cannot say that about my phone. People live with our thinking for a very long time. We have such a responsibility as designers to get it right. To think that you can affect someone's world like that is just crazy power. 


On his decision to retire and what’s up next

We have always planned to design and build our retirement home. Five years ago, we purchased a five-acre wooded property in Milan, Ohio. Our desire to move back up closer to Lake Erie led us in that direction. We have spent the last four years building our dream studio, 3,800 square feet of unadulterated making bliss. The house will be filled with custom cabinetry and furnishings, so it will keep us busy for a few years. Once the house is completed, I will continue my freelance work, designing and building custom wood things of all shapes and sizes. Wood Ace Studio will be my new brand. I also want to continue restoring old wooden boats. We are heavily involved in the Lyman Boat community.

joel gundlach with students

On staying creatively fulfilled

I am a maker at heart. As long as I am creating, I will be happy.