Louise Harris was in her garage. She had just changed her furnace filter and was tearing up the old one so it would fit into a garbage bag when she noticed the aluminum that held the filter’s insulation in place.

She liked its bend-ability and repeated circle pattern. “It spoke to me,” she said.

So the Edina business consultant started playing with the metal to create artwork. Soon she was collecting old furnace filters from friends. “I get them used and dirty, pull them apart and clean and polish them,” she said. Then she cuts and paints the metal, layering and arranging the thin circles to form abstract patterns.

Harris gave away a few pieces as gifts, then started bringing her work to art shows. Ten years after she set up her first booth at the Edina Art Fair, her “Relief Circles” are sold in galleries and shops, locally and nationally; she also creates commissioned pieces.

All proceeds from her artwork, about $200,000 so far, are donated to a diverse array of nonprofits, listed on her website, from Can Do Canines, an organization that trains service dogs, to TreeHouse, which serves at-risk teens.

“I decided at my first show that I would donate the profits,” Harris said. “This is my way of giving back. I feel very blessed, and I never want my art to be an obligation. I do it out of love and creativity.”

By day, she runs her consulting business, Praeeo (Latin for “to lead the way”) and teaches classes at St. Mary’s University. Nights and weekends she creates art in her basement studio, working not only with furnace filters but also recycled scraps from aluminum-can production.

There are some occupational hazards. “I’ve cut myself a lot, to the bone,” she said. “I have a lot of slivers. I will never be a hand model.”

But she finds the process fulfilling. “It’s a good release from the analytical, strategic world,” she said. “It’s creative, even spiritual — like a partnership. The piece and I negotiate its completion.”

Carter Averbeck, owner of Omforme Design in Minneapolis, has been carrying Harris’ art in his “upcycled” furniture shop for two years, after first spotting it at the American Craft Council show.

“I liked her work so much, I sought her out,” he said. “Such sophisticated art from such a humble material — I mean, furnace filters! And she’s the humblest, nicest person on top of it.”

When she started creating, Harris didn’t call herself an artist. “I didn’t feel worthy,” she said. But after winning a few awards, she now considers herself a member of the “art community.”

And becoming an artist has transformed Harris. “Art has taught me to be more open, to pause,” she said. “I believe it’s made me a better consultant — and end up with better results.” 

Minnspirations is a regular column about Minnesotans who inspire and move us.