For 27 years, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (FAC) at Colorado College has hosted the “Art and Acting in the Forest” program at La Foret Conference and Retreat Center in Black Forest, helping children connect and combine passions for creativity and the outdoors. Long before that, early Colorado Springs arts leader Alice Bemis Taylor spent her summers on this very land, bringing her love of art and nature together in the forest.

Tara Sevanne Thomas, director of FAC, described the day camp as an opportunity to “create art through and about nature outside of the traditional classroom.” La Foret is French for “in the forest,” which fits with the surrounding 400 acres of Ponderosa pines.

Acting classes include play performances, theater games, miming and improvisation. Participants also learn performing arts exercises and how to project their voices. On Fridays, the students put on an art show and engage in acting mini-performances for friends and family. For some sessions, performers create their own plays and characters. After art classes, participants enjoy outdoor activities like swimming, hiking or exploring the 85-foot-wide labyrinth made from 40 tons of river rock. Students also learn about Southern Ute history via Ute medicine and prayer trees that have been identified on the property.

La Foret was the summer home of Alice Bemis Taylor, one of three women who founded the FAC. Taylor’s father, Judson Moss Bemis, was a trustee of Colorado College. Later Taylor was the first woman trustee of Colorado College and was known as “Lady Bountiful” for her generous donations to the institution, like her Southwestern art collection, which started the FAC. The FAC celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, having begun as the Broadmoor Art Academy in 1919. The name was officially changed to the Fine Arts Center in 1935.

Ponderosa Lodge, the main residence at La Foret, was constructed in 1928 by J.J.B. Benedict, a prominent Denver architect. Taylor lived at Ponderosa Lodge in the summers and often hosted artist-in-residence programs. The architect of the FAC building in downtown Colorado Springs, John Gaw Meem, also designed the Taylor Memorial Chapel at La Foret in 1929.

After Taylor’s death in 1942, the Bemis-Taylor Foundation deeded La Foret to the Colorado Congregational Church, now known as the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ. La Foret has developed into a full-service conference and retreat center. According to its website, La Foret is “committed to nurturing the spirit, connecting people with one another, refreshing the weary and inspiring healthy and confident future generations.”

“Art and Acting in the Forest” is open to children ages 6 to 11. Depending on enrollment, four to six one-week sessions are offered each summer. Each session has a different theme, and some students can enroll for multiple sessions. The program operates as a day camp from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In the mornings, students take in mixed-media art classes, led by an FAC Bemis School of Art instructor. Students stretch their imaginations with a variety of artistic forms and techniques, including painting, drawing, printmaking and collage, while exploring elements of composition and design.

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