DETROIT - It has been more than six decades since his passion for art was ignited, but Carl Olsen remembers the first sparks of excitement very well.
'At the tender age of 5 or 6, my favorite pastime was drawing cars and airplanes,' he said. 'But instead of drawing replicas of what was on the road, I would draw what was in my imagination.'
Olsen, 66, who retires Dec. 31 as chairman of the transportation design program at Detroit's Center for Creative Studies College of Art and Design, has been the teacher and mentor to many of the U.S. auto industry's rising young stars.
'I feel enormously lucky,' he said. 'I took chances and worked all over the world as a consultant designer. My life has been very rich.'
Olsen has been credited with making CCS the leading supplier of design talent in the auto industry.
Among his positions, Olsen served as director of style at Citroen's Parisian design studio - an honor, he said, that he still holds close to his heart.
Olsen said he will stay in Michigan and work as a consultant.
CCS has formed a search committee to find a replacement. The group includes Ford design chief J Mays, GM design chief Wayne Cherry and DaimlerChrysler design chief Tom Gale.
'I can't see him ever leaving the automotive industry's sphere of influence,' said Bob Boniface, a DaimlerChryler designer and a 1993 graduate of CCS. 'Once it's in your blood, you're here to stay.'
Boniface, who designed the Dodge Intrepid, is among a long list of Olsen's success stories.
Since Olsen joined CCS in 1987, the college has consistently placed 95 percent to 100 percent of its transportation design graduates in jobs with American, European and Asian automakers and suppliers.
'I owe Carl a lot,' said Mike Torpey, a General Motors designer and a 1998 graduate of CCS. Torpey's design for the Cadillac Vizon will be showcased at the Detroit auto show in January.
'He's a real good friend whose respect you have to earn, but once you've earned it, there are no limits to the length he will go to help you succeed. He's going to be a tough guy to replace.'