In 1960, the Portland Art Museum started funding conservation work as part of its collection preservation plan. Money from the general operating budget was used to hire conservation consultants to work on-site for a month at a time. In 1972, at the cusp of the professionalization of the art conservation field in the United States, a fully functioning conservation studio was created through grants from the Kress Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as through individual donations.
Due to needs for both art conservators in the greater region and monetary support for conservation efforts, a Ford Econovan outfitted to travel as a mobile conservation studio, was donated to the department. The van traveled as as far away as Alaska to provide treatment for smaller institutions and individuals, but primarily serviced Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho. As the department developed in those early years, they were funded by donations, grants, and charging for private work.
In the late 90s the lab and conservation workspace was moved to an off-site location. In 2015, for the first time in several decades, the museum hired a full-time conservator dedicated to care of the collection and who is committed to bringing the lab back to the Museum.