Ontario, New York woodworker behind viral wooden Kobe Bryant portrait

Rich Donnelly
Updated: October 29, 2020 11:32 PM
Created: October 29, 2020 10:07 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — It's one of the most talked-about pieces of art in the sports world right now. Recently former Lakers star Pau Gasol posted this picture of a wooden Kobe Bryant portrait on Instagram. The journey of how Gasol acquired this piece began nearly 3,000 miles away from his home in Southern California.

It all started in a shop in Ontario, New York. Steve Thomson is a local artist who felt inspired to create something unique after the death of Kobe Bryant.

"I developed from different images that I found, did my own rendition where I could translate that to different wood pieces and colors," Thomson said. "In the beginning, it's almost a puzzle, it's like you're creating a puzzle."

And thus began 200 hours of planning, cutting, sanding and assembling nearly 100 pieces of walnut, oak and mahogany to create a portrait of Kobe. 

"My favorite part is pulling it off the canvas if you will and giving it dimension," Thomson added, "if this was the side of his face it's a good way to contour it.  As I got going it really started to take on a realness and became lifelike."

But how does this work of art find its way from Wayne County, New York to Orange County, California? That's where Steve's friend Ryan comes in.

"It's amazing, Kobe was a big part of people my age growing up," Ryan Phillips said, "I knew with how amazing it turned out that I could get it to someone close to Kobe."

"I didn't believe him for a second,” Thomson interjected, “I tend to be more skeptical, but he kept reassuring me."

Phillips went to work on social media and connected with Pau Gasol on Instagram. Eventually, the six-time All-Star and former teammate of Kobe agreed to buy the portrait but said that he was going to give it to Kobe's daughters.

"To know that one of my close friends created a piece that is now going to be with people close to Kobe on a personal level is remarkable," Phillips said.

A true passion project, carved and connected along with the bonds of friendship.

"I can't say enough for Ryan putting it out there and really staying with me every step of the way and make it actually happen," Thomson said. "There are artists out there that are phenomenally talented that never get this type of exposure and to know that this could possibly be an heirloom for his daughters was just overwhelming, it was such a great, great feeling."

Pau Gasol's original Instagram post with Steve Thomson's wooden Kobe portrait has more than 112,000 likes. Steve Thomson hopes that this portrait launches a series of similar pieces.  

View this post on Instagram

Remarkable work @happylifewood, I love this piece featuring my brother @kobebryant. Thank you, and also @ryanphilly7 for your help, in making this happen! ??

A post shared by Pau (@paugasol) on

For more information on other items that Steve Thomson created can be found on the Instagram for his company Happy Life Artistry Woodworking.


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