Born in Montpelier, Vermont, Thomas Waterman Wood studied under the portraitist Chester Harding (1792-1866) in Boston from 1846 till 1847. There he made his living painting coats of arms and railroad signs, and by doing patent drawings for inventors, among other odd jobs. For the next decade he painted portraits in Quebec, Washington, New York City, and Baltimore. Wood sailed for Paris in 1858, where he sketched at Louvre and the Galleries Luxembourg, and eventually made his way to Rome and London. After six months abroad, Wood returned to the States, settling in Nashville, where he remained through the first year of the Civil War. After a brief return to Vermont, Wood settled in Louisville, Kentucky, where he remained until 1867, the year he settled permanently in New York City. In 1869, Wood was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design and, in 1871, an Academician. He served as President of the American Water Color Society from 1878 until 1887. Wood also acted as Vice-President of the National Academy of Design for twelve years, beginning in 1879, becoming President of the Academy in 1891.
Wood is perhaps best know for his sensitive portrayals of African Americans, such as his three-painting series, “A Bit of War History” (1865-66), depicting a free black slave fighting for the Union cause. In Now For a Good Smoke, Wood depicts a plasterer—identifiable from the tools of his trade—getting ready to light up his pipe at the end of hard day’s work. Much like J. G. Brown’s depictions of street urchins, Wood’s paintings celebrate the working man by portraying him in a full-length format usually reserved for the portraits of the wealthy.