Wood established a studio in New York City and took up residence in 1852, although he lived for brief periods in other locations from Quebec to Baltimore. During this time, his main interest gradually shifted from portraiture to genre scenes. Although his professional life centered in New York, his thoughts and the subject matter of his paintings never strayed far from his rural Vermont origins. Like such of his predecessors as John Caleb Bingham or William Sidney Mount, Wood’s genre scenes centered on the everyday, the anecdotal or the nostalgic. His many paintings provide a documented account of rural New England in the years after the Civil War. Of particular contemporary interest are the many paintings of freed blacks both before and after the War, subjects which Wood treated with a sensitivity and empathy unusual for his time.
Wood’s affability made him a favorite among fellow artists of the day. He was elected an Associate of the National Academy in 1869 and a full Academician in 1871. He became President of the Academy in 1891, serving until 1900. He was also a member of the American Water Color Society and a founder of the New York Etching Club. Toward the end of his life, he helped establish and endowed the Wood Art Gallery in his native Montpelier, which today houses the largest single collection of Wood’s work. His work can also be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cleveland Museum, the Smithsonian American Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and many other museums across the United States.