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    At Acton gallery, artists express their love in a multitude of ways

    Glenn Johnson
    "My Caregivers" by Alice Brunton is on display at Handworks Gallery of American Crafts in Acton.

    Alice Brunton is grateful every day for the caring nature of her daughter and son-in-law, Bonnie and Bob O’Leary.

    Since being released following a monthlong hospital stay in December, however, Brunton says the Rowley couple demonstrated “exceptional effort” in coordinating nursing services, home health aides, Meals on Wheels, and renovations to her Acton home.

    “[They] think of every detail, bring delicious home-cooked meals, and have made my life as comfortable as possible,” said Brunton, a retired art teacher who has been exhibiting her artwork in a variety of media for nearly 30 years. “I want it to be known how much I appreciate them.”

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    In their honor, Brunton is exhibiting “My Caretakers,” a collage of her watercolor paintings and digitally enhanced photography, in the Expressions of Love show that runs through Feb. 18 at Handworks Gallery of American Crafts in Acton.

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    In its 23rd year, the exhibit celebrating Valentine’s Day features “lovingly juried” work solicited from New England artists, craftspeople, and makers of all skill levels. A corresponding “love story” accompanies each piece, none of which is for sale.

    Glenn Johnson, owner of Handworks, said he began Expressions of Love in order to welcome local artists and craftspeople after taking over the business in 1995. Whereas the previous owner sold foreign imports and goods purchased at trade shows, Johnson said he only sells American-made crafts with an emphasis on local talent.

    “It’s sort of scary never knowing what’s going to come in, or if there will be enough, but it always ends up working out great,” said Johnson, whose own Expressions of Love creations have included a 4-foot, three-dimensional, heart-shaped chocolate box that he hung in the front window as a surprise for his wife, Gerri.

    “This is a warmhearted exhibit that is very validating for the artists,” he added, “and also a great way to express themselves.”

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    The eclectic nature of the artwork at Handworks is reflected in this year’s 20 submissions honoring spouses, children, parents, and other loved ones — including pets. Boxborough artist Barbara Paugh’s “Red Horse” is her first encaustic painting — a portrayal of her quarter horse, Outback Red, whom she owned for eight years until he died at age 26.

    “When I purchased him, he was suffering from a badly damaged hoof and asthma,” Paugh wrote in the essay accompanying the piece. “It was my pleasure to help him heal so he could enjoy life again and he took care of me, as well, as I began to lose strength in my legs.”

    The “Words of Love” quilt by Melissa Wahl of Concord features fabric recreations of vinyl records that, she writes, “recalled another time and place — the world of my mom’s childhood.”

    Ayer artist Sunny Sandock, who began working at Handworks the day after retiring from the high tech industry in 2000, is showing what she says is her best and final piece after working with stained glass for more than 40 years.

    Designed in honor of her late husband, Dave, and as a gift for their son, Bob, “The Road Not Taken” features a stately tree with vibrant fall-colored leaves. A split road leading into woods was inspired both by the Robert Frost poem of the same name, as well as the family’s property in Littleton.

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    Sandock estimates she has shown her work in Expressions of Love at least a dozen times with glass, knitting, and crocheted pieces. Like her fellow exhibitors, she is deeply appreciative to Johnson for providing such a supportive forum for local artists and craftspeople.

    “I think it’s extraordinary,” she said. “It creates a very warm feeling in the gallery for customers, and it gives [artists] a sense of belonging. All the way around, it’s great for the community.”

    Handworks Gallery of American Crafts is located at 161 Great Road in Acton. For more information, visit handworksgallery.net.

    Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.